In winter misery, roads crumble
BY JAMES D. WOLF JR. Post-Tribune correspondent March 11, 2014 11:22PM
Portage street crews fill crater-sized potholes along Crisman Road on Tuesday afternoon, March 11, 2014, before the next snowstorm hits. | Jerry Davich~Post-Tribune
National Weather Service calls for another 4 to 8 inches of snow Wednesday, PAGE 13
Updated: April 13, 2014 6:10AM
VALPARAISO — March’s warmer weather, melting snow and few snowstorms (that will happen, won’t it?) can mean only one thing — it’s pothole season.
“It’s been pothole season all winter long,” said Randy Reeder, assistant superintendent at the Portage Street Department.
With each thaw, no matter how brief, potholes appear, and this year’s brutal winter has produced much more than normal.
“Record-breaking snow totals and record-breaking subzero temperatures have resulted in the worst pothole season some of our longtime crew members have ever seen,” Matt Deitchley, media relations director for the LaPorte District of the Indiana Department of Transportation, stated in an email.
Most Northwest Indiana public works and highway departments spent time Monday and Tuesday filling potholes before Wednesday’s snowfall, and their representatives ask that people let them know where potholes exist.
“Potholes can form very quickly, and some of them form and become severe over the course of a single overnight. Therefore it’s not uncommon for drivers to come across a pothole before we see it,” Deitchley said.
Porter County hasn’t seen many potholes from thawing and freezing because it uses a sand-and-salt mix rather than just salt, which is corrosive to roads, Assistant Highway Supervisor David James said.
However, when weather warms up too quickly, it brings the frost up from under roads too quickly, “and that just turns the roads to mush,” he said.
Valparaiso Public Works Director Matt Evans said it’s not just potholes but heaving and buckling as mud pushes up under pavement, compromising road structure.
“When you get a nice day, everything pops,” Rich Kendera, Merrillville public works foreman, said.
Gradual warming would mean not just fewer “pops” but less flooding.
Because asphalt plants close during winter, street crews are filling potholes with “cold patch” or “cold mix” asphalt until the weather is warm enough to allow hot mix to harden properly. Cold patch is considered a durable but temporary fix.
By Feb. 1, INDOT had used about 7,200 tons of patching material statewide in fiscal 2014, compared with about 6,200 tons in an average year, Deitchley said. That’s $500,000 more than for an average year.
Reeder said that at $50 to $60 a ton, “cold mix is fairly cheap.” But he estimates that Portage has spent twice as much on potholes because the city has sent out double the number of repair crews.
Valparaiso has “used 36 tons of cold patch and 208 man hours since Feb. 20,” Assistant Public Works Director Brent Dickson said.
No one wants to predict how patching costs will affect summer construction budgets, though.
“It is premature to provide specific numbers as to how it will affect this summer’s resurfacing projects. This will be affected in large part by how the roads thaw in the spring,” Valparaiso’s Evans said.
Gary also couldn’t give specific figures, but city Controller Celita Green indicated that they’re looking at the logistics of street work.
“We had already identified additional funds which could be used for infrastructure, which would include filling potholes and paving for 2014. However, due to the number of repairs caused by the winter weather, we are now evaluating how to maximize the dollars that are available,” Green stated in a news release.
“This year winter operations have used considerably more funds than an average year,” Deitchley said, “but at this point it’s not determined how (INDOT) summer roadwork would or would not be affected.”
As Wednesday’s snowstorm indicates, Ol’ Man Winter isn’t eager to depart.
“Winter’s not over yet,” Reeder said.