As sure as cherry blossoms and crocuses, potholes bloom in the spring streets. Yet here we are about a month from the equinox and locals report plenty of craters in the asphalt.
“This is an unusually bad year and it’s all weather-related,” says Mark Jones, Traverse City streets superintendent.
The frequent cycle of freezing and thawing this year has been responsible for the early pothole season.
“In a regular winter, if it stays cold, we wouldn’t have this problem,” Jones adds.
Drivers have certainly noticed.
Among Ticker readers queried on the topic, the roads most referenced were Cass Street, 8th Street, Holiday Road, U.S. 31 in the East Bay area, and Union Street. One reader writes that “Holiday Rd from the bottom to the top is horrid. I swear my car is going to get eaten up in one of those potholes,” while another says “Union from 14th to the Country Club, and Cass St from 17th to 8th are bone jarring.”
The City receives complaints like these on a regular basis and, when the streets department hears about a particular pothole, it moves to the top of the list.
“If somebody’s calling in on one, we know it’s bad enough that we need to get to it,” Jones said. “A lot of the ones people are complaining about, they’ve been patched numerous times.” On one recent day, City crews used seven tons of asphalt patching holes, Jones says.
The Grand Traverse County Road Commission fills out a service request when it receives a complaint about a pothole and tries to get on it within three to five days, says Manager Jim Cook. The county spends about $300,000 per year patching potholes. It’s something that needs to be done constantly, even though it’s a “band-aid,” Cook says.
The only way to truly fix the problem is to resurface or reconstruct the section of road.
“Patching is far from perfect,” Cook says. “It’s porous, so water gets in and then freezes and pops the patch right up.”
When snowplows and even ordinary cars go over a hole, the asphalt just chips away and erodes the hole even further.
“This time of year, you can’t get a good bond. You can have a torch on it forever and it just keeps seeping water out of the ground. When a tire goes over it, it can blow it right back out of the hole,” says Cook.
Prime time for making more lasting repairs is mid or late spring until the beginning of November, depending on weather.
But during these winter months?
Jones quips, “As soon as we get done with plowing, we hop right in the patch wagon.”