Tough winter causing extensive road damage

The winter weather extremes have already given area drivers quite a roller coaster ride.

But when mild afternoon temperatures dramatically drop into the single digits with wintry precipitation — that’s when things get both expensive and dangerous, Bartholomew County Highway engineer Danny Hollander said.

The freeze-thaw cycles that have become common this winter do more than expand cracks in roads, county officials said. Water underneath the pavement is meant to drain away, but during winter floods, it freezes in the base and subgrade materials.

This means trucks bearing heavy loads cause extensive damage to the pavement, with wide gaping potholes suddenly developing where no damage was earlier visible.

“This winter has been exceptionally hard on the (county) roads,” Hollander said. “We’re already paying more, and it’s only going to get worse.”

When Hollander said “paying more,” he was referring to a 48 percent increase in asphalt oil prices now compared to last year, as well as a 35 percent jump in the cost of chip and seal materials.

Since other Indiana counties are also experiencing extensive road damage, the laws of supply and demand will likely make the cost of repairs expensive for everyone, he said.

Because the damage is already quite obvious throughout the county, many of the highway department’s 22 employees are already out patching potholes when they aren’t occupied removing ice and snow, Hollander said.

In addition to those expenses, on Monday the Bartholomew County commissioners agreed to pay $124,789 to replace the blades and related equipment on seven of the county’s snowplows.

“That’s almost half of our fleet,” commissioner Carl Lienhoop said.

Although mechanics have been able to weld temporary fixes to damaged snowplows, Lienhoop said those repairs only last for a limited period of time. The purchase of the new blades and related equipment were budgeted last fall, the commissioner said.

While the blades are thick and durable, the connections that allow the machinery to do the operator’s bidding are what keeps breaking during severe winter conditions, Hollander said.

That includes items ranging from hoses and hydraulics to filters and gaskets, he said.

Much of the corrosion, including rust, is caused by the salt used in snow- and ice-melting mixtures, Hollander said. But there is also extensive damage caused when the plow strikes an unexpected object or backs up into a solid fixture, he said.

The full extent of the damage will be determined early this spring after Bartholomew County Highway supervisor Dwight Smith does a visual inspection of the more than 700 miles of county roads and subdivision streets. In May, when bids are awarded for the county’s annual road overly project, county officials will know just how much road repairs will cost, according to Hollander.

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Dangerous potholes on rural roads can be reported by calling the Bartholomew County Highway Garage at 812-379-1660. You can also leave an email regarding the pothole under the heading "Contact Us" at the highway department’s page on the county’s website. 

Similar problems in Columbus can be reported by calling 812-376-2508, or you can leave an email on the Public Works page of the city’s website.  Report forms for Chuck Hole Patrol can be found under the category of Streets.