If it seems that potholes appeared out of nowhere, you’re not imagining things.
Heavy rain that coated area roads with ice earlier this week brought more than flooding and power failures. Streets have begun their seasonal crumble just in time for early winter.
“That whole cycle is starting earlier this year,” said Erie County Public Works Commissioner John Loffredo. “And we are seeing the usual results – potholes – especially in areas that we recently patched.”
A swing in temperatures over just a few days loosened up pothole patches throughout the region. That means road crews have swung back into pothole action between the typical winter work of salting and plowing.
In Buffalo, officials with the Public Works Department started talking about potholes Sunday, as rain coated areas of the city with ice. While potholes typically emerge during the freeze-thaw cycles in late winter and early spring, they will happen any time temperatures fluctuate.
“There’s really no season,” Commissioner Steven Stepniak said. “It’s all based on what weather conditions occur at this time. You could have this happen in January or February. If it gets warm enough, everything opens up.”
Conditions have been nearly pothole-perfect over the last 10 days, as temperatures hit 5 degrees Dec. 17 and then climbed to 52 degrees four days later, according to the National Weather Service in Buffalo. Water that seeps into roads and then freezes and thaws can create cracks and pop out patches of pavement.
“The best thing that can happen to us is the ground freezes and stays frozen,” said David Kinney, public works director in the City of Niagara Falls. “Rain, that’s our arch-enemy this time of year.”
Buffalo crews have been responding to pothole complaints through the city’s 311 system for several days, Stepniak said.
Plants that produce hot asphalt are closed for the season, so crews across the region must make do with cold patch – a sticky filler that is tamped down into the holes as a temporary fix until spring. But that material can also be scraped up when snowplows clear roads.
“We’re our own worst enemy because we’re sweeping it right away,” Kinney said. “We’re plowing it right off.”
Kinney said his forestry crew responded to dozens of calls for fallen and broken tree limbs after the ice storm Sunday, and road crews began patching potholes shortly after that. Later in the spring, workers in Niagara Falls will use what is known as an asphalt zipper machine to cut out and replace portions of pothole-riddled streets. But the best fix, he said, is to simply resurface a street.
“We’re making progress,” Kinney said. “The only way to fix a pothole right is to pave the street.”
That’s what the state Department of Transportation is planning for Route 33 in Buffalo. Over the summer, the state resurfaced the Kensington Expressway from the Elm-Oak arterial to Harlem Road, and it recently accepted bids for a second project to mill and pave the remaining portion of the highway in 2014.
The department urges drivers to report potholes on state highways through its (800) pothole line.
“Every time there’s a freeze-thaw, there’s going to be some places potholes will form when the situation is just right,” said Ramsey Kahi, a regional planning engineer for the state Department of Transportation. “The key for us is to know where they are.”