State plans 'pothole blitz' to address road damage
The state Division of Highways is readying a multimillion-dollar plan to mend the plague of potholes now pitting state roads.
The winter snow removal and ice control season always leads to wear and tear on state roads. But the successive heavy winter storms this year have taken a harsh toll on roads already suffering from inadequate funding.
"These potholes are the worst our maintenance crews have seen in years," said Carrie Bly, Department of Transportation spokeswoman.
In early February, Transportation Secretary Paul Mattox met with senior officials in the state's 10 highways districts to hash out a strategy to patch the pothole problem.
"Internally, we've called it a pothole blitz," Bly said. "It's our pothole plan of attack."
Bly said officials want to repair the potholes as quickly as possible.
However, there's one factor that's beyond their control: the weather.
"For this to work, we need temperatures in the 40s and 50s consistently, otherwise it's just a waste of time to do it," Bly said.
Workers finally caught a break on Thursday when temperatures broke into the 50s for many parts of the state. Crews fanned out to conduct spot repairs on some of the worst potholes on heavily trafficked roads.
"They're going out to the worst of the worst," Bly said. "The tire-busting potholes are the concentration right now."
But those spot repairs were just temporary patches.
That's because the material crews use for permanent fixes - hot asphalt - isn't readily available right now.
"The reason we're not out paving hardcore is because the asphalt plants close in the winter," Bly said.
She said those private asphalt companies typically don't open until April.
For now, the work highways crews are doing is what's known as "cold patching."
"When we don't have the hot asphalt that acts as a permanent fix, we take cold patch material that you can buy at Lowe's or any other hardware store and throw it in the hole and put it down," Bly said.
The downside is, the cold patching lasts only about a week or two, depending on traffic on the road.
"It's just a temporary fix because we don't have any plants open right now," Bly said.
She said Mattox and other highways officials have been in contact with asphalt companies in an attempt to get them to open sooner.
They're optimistic they can convince some of the plants to open sometime this month.
"We're hopeful we can get them open in the next couple of weeks before April and then, once they do, we can start using the hot mixes and that can be a permanent fix," Bly said.
She said once asphalt plants are open, highways crews will be out in full force to conduct repairs and patch roads.
To support the effort, senior transportation officials have gone back and reviewed the list of projects they had budgeted funds for this year.
They identified $12 million worth of non-critical projects that could be delayed until next year and are now diverting that money strictly to fixing potholes.
That's on top of the money the department was already planning to spend on pothole repair this year.
In the last three years, the state has spent an average of $18 million a year on pothole repair, a program more formally known as bituminous pavement patching.
Bly said the department had already spent $9 million on the program during the current fiscal year, which began July 1. The $12 million will be added to the remaining amount that had been budgeted this year.
In addition to asphalt, that money can go toward paying overtime and renting additional equipment to conduct repairs.
"We want to get ahead of it really quick so we can get the potholes taken care of and then go about our other maintenance business," Bly said.
She said as long as the weather holds out, crews could begin those repairs later this month and have the project completed before the start of the summer paving season.
Contact writer Jared Hunt at email@example.com or 304-348-4836.