Caution: Bumpy roads ahead.
While many who live in the Columbus area rejoiced about warmer temperatures that arrived Thursday, Bartholomew County officials and road crews are worried about the thaw’s aftermath.
The concern is potholes, formed when expanded ice lodged in small asphalt cracks suddenly melts and frozen material beneath the road is weakened by melting ice and snow.
When vehicles travel upon weakened blacktop, potholes begin to appear on city streets and rural roads.
County road crews normally patch holes on more than 700 miles of roads as they pop up between snowstorms, but the demands of an exceptionally harsh winter have left workers with precious little time to do anything but plow and salt.
“We do what we can, but with the freezing and thawing, it’s gonna be a bad year (for potholes),” county highway engineer Danny Hollander said.
For several years, local road crews have used what’s called the “throw-and-roll” method to temporarily patch a pothole. After water and loose dirt is removed, workers use a shovel to fill the hole with a hot or cold asphalt mix and roll over it with a vehicle to pat it down.
But modern spray-injection technology is increasingly being used in the county to create a more permanent fix.
Two machines called DuraPatchers have been purchased in recent years by the county. They clean the hole before a tack coat is applied, followed by spraying of an emulsion-aggregate mix into the pothole.
Each DuraPatcher then applies sufficient force to compact the material as it is applied. Finally, a dry aggregate is added, preventing the patch from lifting.
“(DuraPatchers) keep us from feeling like we’re chasing our tails and patching the same holes week after week,” Bartholomew County Commissioner Larry Kleinhenz said.
Although city crews still use the “throw-and-roll” method to fix holes on 259 miles of blacktop, City Garage Manager Bryan Burton isn’t expecting an unusual number of complaints from through the actual arrival of spring.
“Luckily, the engineering department paved a lot of streets for us last year,” Burton said. “That helped us out a ton.”
Burton is referring to 24 miles of city streets resurfaced last year — as much as the previous six years combined, according to the city engineer’s office.
Last year’s expanded paving program was financed by money borrowed for a canceled indoor sports complex project.
While city road crews aren’t as worried about potholes as much as their counterparts in the county, 20 years of experience with the city garage has taught Burton one thing.
“We are definitely going to see potholes in a lot of places we haven’t seen,” Burton said.
Burton also warned drivers potholes can be tough to avoid.
“You may be behind a tractor-trailer and, by the time you see it, it’s too late to swerve,” Burton said.
On the state level, the Indiana Department of Transportation has recently expanded its own Pavement Preservation Program.
INDOT spokesman Harry Maginity said the program is estimated to save $6 to $14 on future repairs for every $1 spent on overlays or repairing small cracks.