Schenectady County

Bumpy road ahead as pothole season nears

Better fasten your seat belt when driving in coming weeks — the ride is going to get a little bumpy.

Better fasten your seat belt when driving in coming weeks — the ride is going to get a little bumpy.

Not only will drivers experience frost heaves, but they can also expect to see more potholes peppering roads.

“It is something you look forward to every February until you can get hot asphalt,” said Ray Halgas, Amsterdam Public Works general foreman, of potholes.

Potholes, the scourge of motorists everywhere, will start pitting streets, roads and highways in record numbers when the weather starts to change, said Joe Ryan, director of public works for Schenectady County. “Once you get the frost out of the ground, that is when you will see them. That is usually in March when you see the freeze-thaw cycle,” he said.

Bumps in the road called frost heaves, on the other hand, are occurring now — they are a factor of the weather, said Joseph C. Ritchey, commissioner of public works for Saratoga County. “If water gets trapped [under the road] for the winter, the road will heave,” he said. “If you take a ride on some of these country roads during a cold freeze, it is like a roller coaster.”

Frost heaves can cause potholes but will not destroy roads, Ritchey said. “The road comes right back because asphalt has flexibility,” he said. That is, unless the road was poorly constructed to begin with and does not allow water to drain away, he said.

Frank Gavin, highway superintendent for Niskayuna, said the weather this week will help create some potholes, but nothing compared to later on. The Capital Region will experience a cycle of warm daytime temperatures followed by overnight freezes through the weekend, a recipe for pothole creation.

“It would be great if we only had one freeze-thaw cycle. But what we are getting here is weather getting into the 40s, maybe the 50s, then getting back to freezing temperatures,” Gavin said.

Potholes form when snowmelt leaches into road cracks and pools under the asphalt. If it can’t drain away, the water will expand when the temperature drops, cracking the asphalt.

“If the road stays frozen, we would not have the problem,” Gavin said. “The secret is to keep water out of the pavement.”

Ritchey said proper drainage and well-maintained roads help prevent potholes. “If you have a road that is well-sealed, the water will not drain through,” he said. “We manage water more than anything up here in the Northeast.”

Highway officials said they check their roads often for potholes during the winter.

Gavin said he sends highway crews out every Monday and Friday to patch potholes along the town’s 80 miles of road. “We budget for it. We go through four to five tons of material a week at a cost of $350 to $500 per week,” he said.

The preferred patch is a cold asphalt mix. “It is flexible, but it is only a temporary repair,” Gavin said.

Ritchey said Saratoga County uses about two tons of cold patch a week to repair potholes along 360 miles of roads. “We have a crew going out every day to check,” he said.

Glenville Deputy Highway Supervisor Jeffrey Gemette said the town goes through a ton a week of cold patch for its 100 miles of roads. “We have trouble roads that we check every other day. We don’t need to check as often on roads that we have paved in the last seven to eight years,” he said. “You have to stay up with it,” he said.

Jim Looman, of Sikorski’s Service in Amsterdam, said the shop is repairing tires each week due to damage incurred from potholes. “We are seeing a lot of tires and bent rims on the inside edge,” he said. “What that means is that these aluminum rims catch the bottom of the tire and destroy the tire.” He said the damage mostly happens to the low-profile tires when they hit a deep pothole.

Looman said another problem shops see is vehicles getting out of alignment from hitting potholes. “You are jarring the alignment off and you have to constantly get it realigned,” he said.

“Potholes are a reality of winter that comes each year, usually toward the end of the season when temperatures warm up, but the state Department of Transportation is already on the lookout for these nuisances,” said Acting Commissioner Joan McDonald.

The state employs preventive maintenance practices designed to seal pavements and prevent the seepage of water. The state estimates these practices save New York state more than $1 billion annually in highway rehabilitation projects.

Categories: Schenectady County

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