Pothole time ahead

This winter’s harsh weather is having an impact on area roadways as potholes are already forming on some Marietta streets, and many more are expected once the temperatures begin to rise.

“Once you see a pothole, you try to avoid it, but there are always some you don’t see or can’t drive around,” said Kevin Lowther, a longtime delivery driver for Smitty’s Pizza in Marietta.

He said potholes can be found in several areas of the city, from Gilman Avenue on the west side to Acme Street in the Norwood district.

“But that’s about normal for potholes this time of the year,” Lowther said. “And we’re just seeing normal wear and tear on our delivery trucks.”

Darrell Haught with Mahone Tires on Front Street said this year vehicle damage from potholes has been light.

“We’ve seen maybe two or three all winter so far, and usually we’ll see more than that,” he said. “Overall I don’t think the streets here in town have been that bad, but when this cold weather starts to warm up we’ll be seeing more pothole damage.”

Haught said that damage can include burst tires or bent wheels.

“If the wheel is made of steel it can be bent back into shape, but most wheels now are made of aluminum, and it can be costly to have them repaired or replaced,” he said.

Complaints about potholes have also been on the light side this month, according to mayor’s secretary Cheyenne Oaks who, along with clerk Mary Grubert, receives pothole complaints via telephone or the “pothole hotline” on the city’s website www.mariettaoh.net.

“We haven’t had that many at all. There was one complaint last week,” she said. “Last year at this time we’d had a few more, but it was a lot warmer last January.”

Chris Hess, streets foreman for the city of Marietta, said potholes often don’t show up on the coldest snowy days.

“As cold as it’s been this month, a lot of potholes are filled with snow and ice and they won’t pop up until there’s a thaw,” he said. “Generally potholes start in areas where water accumulates on the asphalt surface, then alternate freezing and thawing deteriorates the asphalt and creates a pothole.”

Hess said a “cold patch” made from a mixture of sand, limestone and an emulsifier is used to fill and repair potholes during the winter months when hot asphalt is not available from local plants.

“Cold patch is expensive, but it does provide a temporary repair for the pothole,” he said.

The warmer the weather, the better the cold patch will hold to the pothole, but Hess said if cold and snow return shortly after a hole is repaired, the patch will likely be soon knocked out by a passing vehicle. He said during inclement weather a cold patch can be washed out in less than a week.

“But we try to do whatever we can to keep the potholes filled,” he said.

Streets superintendent Todd Stockel said the city purchases the cold patch mixture in truckloads of 6 to 8 tons at a time and streets crews typically use between 40 and 60 tons of the mix every year.

“Our last load was $105 a ton,” he said. “And the price tends to increase every year. In 2009 we were paying $85 per ton. And by comparison, we can get the hot asphalt mix during warmer months for around $68 a ton.”

Stockel said the truck carrying the cold patch mixture has to be kept in a bay where the temperature is warm enough to keep the mixture pliable enough to spread into a pothole repair.

“And the deeper the pothole, the better it will hold a cold patch,” he said.

Streets with the most potholes reported so far this year include Acme Street near the Greene Street intersection and near the Kroger plaza, the 700 and 800 blocks of Lancaster Street and a few areas of Gilman Avenue, Stockel said.

“But we can expect to see more pop up after the weather warms up later this week,” he said.

Washington County highway superintendent Calvin Becker said potholes have also been fairly scarce on county roadways this winter.

“We’re doing pretty good,” he said. “I’ve probably had only a dozen or so reported within the last several weeks. But we haven’t had a real freeze/thaw cycle yet. When it’s cold a few days, then there’s a thaw, that’s when potholes suddenly start showing up.”

Becker said potholes have been more of an issue on the county’s gravel roads.

“We grade those areas the best we can as weather permits,” he said. “But so far there have not been many potholes on our asphalt roads.”

Becker said he often relies on county snowplow operators to keep him informed about any potholes forming on county roadways.

“We try to take care of the potholes as soon as possible, but with nearly 350 miles of county roads we may not always catch every one,” he said.

Residents who live out in the county can report potholes on county roadways by calling the Washington County Engineer’s office.