Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

January 17, 2014

Potholes creating many challenges for local motorists

Busiest city streets suffer the greatest amount of asphalt damage

By Martin Slagter Kokomo Tribune
Kokomo Tribune

---- — Changes in the weather always manage to keep Joe Ewing and the Kokomo Street Department on their toes this time of year.

Coming off one of the worst winter storms Kokomo has seen in a couple of decades, Ewing’s crews shifted their focus from plowing city streets around the clock to dealing with the aftermath of a thaw that melted a good portion of the snow: potholes.

Ewing said potholes began to pop up on Saturday after the combination of snow and ice packed into cracks in the roads, expanding those cracks and leaving a number of sizable holes in city streets that are difficult to avoid.

“When the cold weather hit and then it got warm, [potholes] started appearing with the moisture created by the warm weather,” said Ewing, adding that crews were able to fill between 25 and 40 potholes in a single day earlier this week.

Ewing said the worst damage occurs on Kokomo’s busiest streets where cars travel at higher speeds, including Washington Street, Markland Avenue, Lafountain Street, Jefferson Street and Dixon Road.

The recent influx of inclement weather has forced city and county workers to put in extra hours over the past couple of weeks, beginning with the snow storm that hit Central Indiana on Jan. 5.

The city paid $51,000 in overtime wages during the three-day storm that had workers picking up an average of 30 to 40 hours of overtime each. That total reflects the pay of the city’s street, sewer and traffic departments. On top of that, an additional $22,000 was spent on salt for roads.

Howard County’s Highway Department spent $24,000 on overtime, with 24 vehicles on the roads for the duration of the storm.

“We had to keep all of our guys running, because we didn’t have enough people to go out there in shifts,” Howard County Highway Superintendent Ted Cain said. “We had to pick our times when it was best to be out there and plow and get our guys rest when it wasn’t snowing.”

Indiana Department of Transportation Spokesman Harry McGinity said potholes are typical when there are conditions that allow water to expand cracks in the asphalt as it freezes and thaws, particularly when transitioning from “Arctic to spring-like” temperatures.

Road workers are at a disadvantage during the winter, McGinity noted, not only in battling constantly changing elements, but because hot mix asphalt plants close for the winter when road construction shuts down.

As a result, INDOT is forced to use a cold mix of aggregate and liquid asphalt. The mix fixes potholes temporarily, but workers will sometimes end up patching the same spots two or three times during the course of the winter.

Once spring rolls around, McGinity said, crews will return to clean out those potholes and fill them with a hot mix of construction-grade asphalt.

“That’s a relatively permanent fix that leaves the spot a lot smoother,” McGinity said. “We’re doing the job right [in the winter], but we don’t have the material to fix the potholes until the weather is warmer.”

An important factor in fixing potholes, McGinity said, is making sure motorists make local and state authorities aware of them when they are spotted.

Outside of Kokomo, there haven’t been the same types of challenges. That’s because Howard County’s Highway Department doesn’t use the same volume of salt on its 600 miles of roads as the city does on busier streets within the city limits, Cain said.

Cain said county roads typically suffer the worst pothole damage during March, when the ground begins to thaw out. During the latest thaw, highway workers have only had to fill one pothole.

To report potholes, contact the city of Kokomo Street Department at 765-453-4030 or INDOT at 855-463-6848.

Martin Slagter can be reached at 765-454-8570, martin.slagter@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter @slagterm.