State, local road crews busy attacking growing pothole problem

New London Public Works employees Leroy Morrison and Christopher Startz patch potholes Wednesday amid snowflakes along Ocean Avenue.
New London Public Works employees Leroy Morrison and Christopher Startz patch potholes Wednesday amid snowflakes along Ocean Avenue. Sean D. Elliot/The Day Buy Photo

This winter season has been the busiest in 10 years for road crews repairing "bigger, deeper" potholes on state roads, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation said Wednesday.

Kevin Nursick said the DOT doesn't keep records on how many potholes they repair, but crews have been patching holes seven days a week, even after hours and on "odd" hours.

"It's been a very tough winter with very cold temperatures and extreme freeze-thaw cycles, which are perfect conditions for potholes," he said. "The potholes this season seem to be bigger, deeper and popping up out of nowhere."

DOT crews during their routine maintenance work are on the constant lookout for potholes and repair them as soon as they can, he said. People can report potholes on the DOT's website at www.ct.gov/dot.

About 70 percent of potholes are repaired using a cold patch, which can be applied in unfavorable, cold weather conditions. When temperatures get above freezing, recycled asphalt is placed into a hot mixer, and the hot asphalt is used instead.

DOT crews sometimes also use a special formula called DuraPatch, which is placed in a special truck that has a snorkel-like device that sprays aggregate and asphalt emulsion directly into the hole. This is often used on the highways so that crews don't have to go outside in 60 to 70 mph traffic, he said.

Permanent patching jobs will be done in April, when asphalt plants open for the season.

"We're going to be busy for the next couple of months," Nursick said. "That's the reality of this harsh winter."

Town crews have been busy, too.

Norwich Public Works Director Barry Ellison said there are more potholes this winter than in a normal year because of the repeated snow and ice storms, warming and refreezing. No area is worse than others, but officials are tracking the problem when they make decisions on which roads will be paved using city bond money approved by voters last fall.

Maple Street, for example, has several potholes and is scheduled for repaving this year.

Sherman Street also has several potholes, and the city plans to repave that in conjunction with a plan to replace the Sherman Street bridge over the Yantic River.

Funding for pothole repairs comes from the already strained Public Works budgets as materials, supplies and staffing.

"We will continue to fill the potholes," Ellison said. "There's no danger of not doing that."

Preston First Selectman Robert Congdon said his town roads are no different when it comes to potholes, but his Public Works Department budget has a different pot of money for these repairs.

Old Lyme Public Works Director Ed Adanti said the town has seen quite a few more potholes this year - about 10 percent more - brought on by a warm spell after cold weather.

"We've been very aggressive in filling them in the past week," he said.

In Ledyard, Public Works Director Steve Masalin said the town has just come out of a three-year period of aggressive road system upgrades, eliminating many candidates for pothole development and repair.

Still, about a dozen or so chronic problem areas will have to wait until spring for a permanent fix - prewinter potholes that this season's snow and plowing only exacerbated.

In the meantime, the town has gone through "quite a bit" of cold patch as a stopgap - a material not as weather-resistant or permanent as hot asphalt - but not enough to strain the budget.

In Stonington, Public Works Director Barbara McKrell said crews have been out fixing potholes regularly and as of Wednesday have completed fixing the list of ones reported by residents. She added there is no problem funding the repairs with money currently in the budget.

North Stonington First Selectman Nicholas Mullane said the town has only completed a few small pothole patches - no more than usual - but the worst of the issues will arrive with the spring thaw and rain.

Small splits in the pavement have held together while the ground is still frozen, but Mullane said he expects more potholes than usual after a particularly hard winter.

"It's inevitable that more stuff is going to come apart," he said.

But he said those repairs will take up more time than money. "I don't think it's a showstopper on the budget, but it is labor-intensive," he said.

i.larraneta@theday.com

Day staff writers Claire Bessette, Kimberly Drelich, Anna Isaacs and Joe Wojtas contributed to this report.

Help us avoid the potholes

Harsh winter weather is not only unpleasant for people, but it can also ravage our streets, roads and highways.
We're asking readers to help us map potholes so we can all avoid them and the damage they can do to our vehicles.
Go to www.theday.com/potholes, locate the pothole and then rate it from a scale of 1-5:
1. Small crack or hole.
2. Can be felt when driven over.
3. Rattles the car and nerves.
4. Swerve to miss it.
5. Just short of a sinkhole.
Those who participate will be included in a drawing for a free front-end alignment from Meineke Car Care Center. Byrnes Agency is also sponsoring the map.

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