Potholes are a problem that there’s seemingly no way around.
They usually show up during the freeze-thaw cycle near the end of winter, when water slips into the cracks of roads and overnight icing expands the cracks, creating a void in the road foundation.
Compared to last year, it may seem like there are more potholes throughout Bucks and Montgomery counties, but that’s likely because this year they all came at once.
This February’s deep freeze caused water in the cracks to freeze and stay frozen for upwards of three weeks straight.
“It didn’t have a chance to thaw,” Charles Metzger, a representative from PennDOT’s District 6-0, said. “We hit the 60-degree mark and things just exploded.”
District 6-0 covers the five-county area including Bucks, Montgomery, Delaware, Chester and Philadelphia counties.
Metzger said that from Dec. 1, 2013 to March 17, 2014, PennDOT used 2,502 tons of asphalt to fill state potholes and 871 tons for the same dates in 2014-2015. Since the weather warmed up, PennDOT has had crews out on state roads every day attending to problems.
One solution PennDOT uses is the cold patch, an asphalt material that acts as a temporary solution for the problem.
“It’s not a permanent fix,” Metzger said. “It’s just to make sure something fills the pothole.”
For a permanent solution, crews would have to saw-cut the area around the pothole and seal the cracks with hot asphalt. PennDOT’s hot plants are just opening up, as they usually do in mid-to-late March. Soon, crews will be applying the more permanent solution.
Until the permanent fixes come through, there may be a lot of pothole ducking and dodging on the roadways.
AAA Mid-Atlantic statistics for March 2015 suggest that much of the damage has already been done, not to the roads, but to the vehicles that use them.
Emergency roadside assistance calls for flat tires have increased by 54 percent from March 1 to 16 this year compared to the same timeframe in 2014. This year there were 6,319 and last year only 4,094. These numbers suggest that perhaps this February freeze theory has some credibility.
Local auto repair shops are seeing a similar trend. Gerard Lykon, owner of Lykon Automotive in Bristol Township, suggested that potholes are to blame for many of the shop’s recent repairs.
“What people are bringing in are a lot of bent rims, bent lower control arms, bent tire rods, bent struts,” he said. “A lot of suspension and tires.”
Perhaps many people making these emergency roadside calls are ending up in local repair shops soon after.
“The impact of the weight of the car hitting a pothole jams the suspension upwards into the car,” Lykon said. “If you can avoid it, avoid it.”
With the scores of potholes across local roads, it may be a difficult situation to avoid.
According to AAA Mid Atlantic data, potholes and poor road conditions cost consumers $27 billion over the last five years.
Some municipalities are taking initiatives for repairs.
Hatboro Public Works implemented its new “pothole buster” earlier this month. The borough bought the machine from Asphalt Care Equipment and Construction Supplier located in Bensalem.
It is a trailer that has a propane heater that is controlled for temperature. The trailer is able to carry 2,000 pounds of hot asphalt at once and keep it at around 300 degrees, which is ideal for pothole repair.
Before, public works was using a dump truck.
“The work time was limited because the asphalt cooled,” Brent Sine, foreman for Hatboro Public Works, said. “I’ve seen it more and more, but it’s new to us.”
Machines like this can cost as much as $57,000, but Hatboro acquired it for less than $19,000. They also offer a better, longer-term repair than the cold patch.
“It met our needs and we’re having some luck with it,” Sine added.
Soon, drivers may be able to say the same for the roads.
Matt Schickling, the Wire