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March 12, 2014

Pothole epidemic jolts area road crews

By Denise Richardson Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — A Northeast perennial is in full bloom.

Potholes.

Fluctuating temperatures cause pavement to heave, resulting in potholes and bumpy roadways, officials said Tuesday, and maintenance crews are having a tough time keeping up with repairs because of weather conditions.

"It's a continuous wave," said Larry Harrison, public service supervisor for the city of Oneonta.

This winter, crews have been out more often than in recent years, he said, and the "horrible" pothole conditions are likely to get worse as freezing temperatures return, then are followed by warmer days as spring approaches.

Mother Nature today is ushering in another cold, wintery spell.

On Tuesday afternoon, the National Weather Service in Binghamton upgraded an advisory to a winter storm warning for heavy snowfall in Chenango and Otsego, among other counties in the region, between 10 a.m. today until 8 a.m. Thursday.

Rain and sleet in the morning will change to snow, which may become heavy snowfall this afternoon and tonight, with possible accumulations of 6 to 12 inches, the NWS said. Temperatures may drop rapidly during the day causing a flash freeze on roadways, among other travel hazards.

In Delaware County, a winter weather advisory in effect from noon today to 8 a.m. Thursday will mean that periods of snow, sleet or freezing rain will cause slippery roads and limited visibility, the NWS said. Snowfall may be heavy and accumulations of 4 to 8 inches are possible.

Dave Hamburg, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, said the temperature in Binghamton was 52 degrees Tuesday.

"Because of the freezing and thawing and extreme conditions, more potholes are happening," Hamburg said. The seven counties in the DOT's Region 9 include Delaware, Chenango Otsego and Schoharie counties.

"All counties are pretty much in the same position," Hamburg said.

Municipal and state crews have been working to fill potholes with cold-patch, officials said, but the weather has been so changeable that the repairs don't hold.

Customers at Stewart's Shops in Oneonta said they were well-aware of potholes in their travels on local roads.

"Last year, it didn't seem as bad," said Morris Moore of San Antonio, who is in the area for the third time to do computer work for Chobani in New Berlin. "Potholes usual pain."

The harsh winter has made repairs difficult, Scott Keyser of Otego said, and state and local crews can't be blamed for road conditions caused by potholes.

"They seem to be all over the place," Keyser said. "They seem pretty treacherous."

Walton Mayor Ed Snow said crews have working on fixing potholes, but the cold patch doesn't have time to dry before wet conditions return and the repair pops out. Some repairs have lasted only five or six hours, he said.

"The roads aren't holding the fill," said Snow, who has been mayor for seven of the 17 years he has lived in Walton. "This is by far the worst I've seen for potholes."

He estimated a "huge increase in costs" in the thousands of dollars for repairs, an expense that will be met by transferring money from the village's general fund.

Also, Snow said, he has been on the telephone constantly with the state DOT about its Delaware Street, which serves as the village's main street with 3,000 cars a days driving over it.

Potholes can cause damage to vehicles, including broken shock absorbers, struts, wheels and deflated tires, Lew Barney, manager at Monser Bros. Tire and Service Center in Oneonta, said.

"We're getting lots of cars in with damage," he said. Potholes are "always bad this time of year" but seem somewhat worse this winter, he said. He advised motorists who must drive on roads with potholes to "slow down."

Randy Lewis, manager of Scavo's Body Shop in Oneonta, said potholes also can cause damage to a vehicle's suspension.

"They definitely are a problem," he said. "I hear people complaining about them."

So far, the city of Oneonta has spent about $6,000 on cold-patch for pothole repairs, Harrison said. Crews will continue repairs with cold-patch until the hot-asphalt firm opens in April, he said.

Michael Long, Oneonta city manager, said potholes have been particularly noticeable on Main Street downtown, West Street and Center Street.

Long said West Street has been scheduled for repaving this year in a section near the entrance to Hartwick College, where potholes are numerous. The city will assess road conditions in the spring to formulate plans for street work, he said.

"All cities in upstate New York in the Northeast have potholes," Long said.

Hamburg said this time of year double shifts of crews are scheduled, with the first starting at about 5 a.m. and the second, eight hours later.

"When we're not fighting snow and ice, our crews are out doing pothole repairs," Hamburg said. "We're being as attentive as we possibly can to them."