Potholes: City crews say it’s just the beginning

Some potholes on local roads have grown from small depressions to lane-wide rivers, as snow melt seeps into a crack, freezes and loosens the pavement from underneath. (Linda Baumeister/Review)

The culprit: water. With sudden melting of this year’s snowfall — coupled with the fact many stormwater drains were still covered with ice — water seeped into cracks and holes all over area roads. After a couple cycles of freezing and expanding, its effects were obvious to those in even the “smoothest-riding” vehicles. (Linda Baumeister/Review)

Potholes of various depths have been nuisances in need of repair on some roads this winter. (Linda Baumeister/Review)

How to report issues

Maplewood has already packed 18 tons of asphalt into potholes on city streets in recent weeks, and staff members say that’s just the beginning.

Public works director Michael Thompson said the department is on track to slap down about 100 tons of the cold mix material over the next few weeks, and will break out a hot-mix asphalt for finer, more durable repairs once the snow melts and the streets are swept.

“We have two crews full-time out in the field,” Thompson said. “They’re driving all of the streets and they’ll stop at all of the larger potholes, the ones that can really do damage to a wheel.” 

Extreme temperature fluctuations recently have made the roads more treacherous for drivers than past years, according to Thompson.

Other street maintenance departments in the east metro expect it to get much worse, and car repair shops are already seeing vehicles with suspected pothole-related damage as the underground frost thaws and large piles of snow in the boulevards melt.

The water freezes as temperatures dip at night, seeping into and expanding cracks and holes, aggravating already crater-pocked roads. Normal wear and tear from the vibrations of traffic also prompt pavement to buckle.

City, county, state receive complaints

Thompson said his department’s received a handful of calls about pitted areas along Lakewood Drive in south Maplewood. That stretch is slated for reconstruction in 2016, he said, as part of the city’s five-year program to rebuild certain streets.

The city has also forwarded some complaints about roads maintained by Ramsey County, such as White Bear Avenue, which Thompson said is in “tough shape” from about Beam Avenue to Frost Avenue. The county’s North St. Paul Road in Maplewood is also riddled with deep holes and cracks, a portion of which have been repaired.

Maplewood recently started offering residents the option to send a text message or download the Maplewood Tips applications in order to report a pothole.

North St. Paul public works vehicles can been seen around town, stopping at some of the depressions that cars have swerved to avoid. The crew gave some extra attention to a cavity on Seventh Avenue near McKnight Road the morning of March 13, and later patched up the road extensively through the city’s downtown.

In Lake Elmo, city employees usually repair potholes and other roadway issues in order of priority, ideally evaluating the problems within 24 hours.

If they’re deemed a hazard, the public works department puts down a temporary patch. The replacement or extensive repair of ailing pavement are completed through the street capital improvement plan.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation responds to the complaints on state highways and interstates, such as Highway 5 that runs through Maplewood to Oakdale to Lake Elmo and Highway 36, as well as interstates 694 and 94, which criss-cross in the east metro suburbs.

Since the hot-asphalt plant opened up this month in St. Paul, MnDOT crews have been putting down that material, which creates patches intended to last for several years, spokeswoman Denise Workcuff said.

So far this year, the department has received an average of three or four reports of potholes a day.

“Once we get the report, we try to fix them between 24 and 48 hours,” she said. “We try to fix potholes at the same time we’re doing cleanup. We try to multitask as much as we can.”

Car tires, suspensions take the jolts

Although veering around gouges in the pavement, a bumpier commute and slowing down near maintenance crews can be annoying for drivers, the real headache often comes in the repair service bill after the ga-thunk of hitting a real wheel-buster.

“I know I’m dodging them when I’m driving down the road,” said Bruce Maples, service director at Merit Chevrolet. “You can’t avoid some.”

A vehicle recently came in to the Maplewood service center with impact damage to a tire that was likely caused by hitting the side of a hole in the road, if not a curb, according to Maples.

“You can get to where you damage a rim, or other suspension components that are damaged or bent because of severe impacts,” he said.

New tires can cost upwards of $1,000, he said. According to Merit’s online pricing, aligning front suspension costs nearly $100.

Hitting a pothole can also knock off alignment, which can cause tires to wear out prematurely, Maples said.

“This time of year we start doing free alignment checks for customers when they’re in for service work, because a lot of them need adjustment,” he said, adding that manufacturers recommend getting tire alignment checked annually.

He said it’s also a time mufflers can be seen on the side of the road. When exhaust systems are worn out, he explained, a faceoff with potholes can make a muffler fly right off.

Potholes likely to get worse

Workcuff said the real onset of pothole season has hardly started.

“Usually the big season is right after a good-size thaw,” she said.

The Oakdale Public Works Department is expecting pothole problems to proliferate with the freeze-thaw cycles.

“They haven’t been so bad this year, so far,” said Jim Romanik, street superintendent. “It is going to be a bad year for potholes as we go on. It’s going to be slightly worse than an average year.”

He said the five-person crew keeps an eye out for problem areas, and respond to complaints. Often, main drags, such as Hadley Avenue, are fixed first.

The inconsistency of Minnesota spring weather often means pothole rematches, as crews in snowplows scrape up the material they put down with pavers just days earlier.

“If we do have to plow snow again, no matter if we use cold mix or hot mix, we can pull the patches that we had put down,” Romanik said. “Even though we’re fighting some of the elements with the moisture and frost, we still hope the majority of them are going to stay permanently.”

Drainage is another battle for city crews.

Oakdale’s already cleared off between 75 and 100 storm drains, coaxing the water to enter the stormwater system instead of freezing and thawing in sheets on the streets. 

Due to the cold weather and snow, Oakdale’s budget, like those of other municipalities, has already taken a hit.

“We were burning a lot of overtime that way and also a lot of material, throwing down a lot of salt,” Romanik said. “It really got to be a strain on the budget and all of our resources -- employees, fuel, overtime, salt.”

Long-term maintenance is key

Romanik said Oakdale’s somewhat “aggressive” street reconstruction programs help the city stay ahead of the game when it comes to potholes.

Thompson said the spring is usually a “wakeup call” on the importance of keeping up on street maintenance.

“This time of year is definitely a big reminder,” he said. “It is a reminder of the importance of transportation funding and investment not just at the local level, but also the county, state and federal level.” He added, “Without good roads, quality of life and economic revitalization suffers.”

Kaitlyn Roby can be reached at 651-748-7814 and kroby@lillienews.com. Follow her at twitter.com/KRobyNews.

How to report potholes

Minnesota Department of Transportation
Visit www.dot.state.mn.us, and click on “Report a pothole.”
Call 651-234-7110.

Ramsey County
Call 651-266-7100.
Email pothole@co.ramsey.mn.us.

North St. Paul
Visit www.ci.north-saint-paul.mn.us, click “Contact Us/Report A Concern” in the lefthand column, and fill out the form, indicating the issue being reported.
Call 651-747-2400, if there’s an urgent concern during normal business hours.

Text the keyword “Maplewood,” along with the location and key word “pothole” to 847411 (TIP411).  
Download the Maplewood Tips application, which is available for both Apple and Android devices.
Call 651-249-2400 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Email the Public Works Department at public.works@ci.maplewood.mn.us

Washington County
Visit mn-washingtoncounty.civicplus.com, and click on “Report a concern.” Then click on “Road Maintenance/Potholes/Storms” at the bottom of the page.
Call 651-430-4300.

Visit www.ci.oakdale.mn.us, put cursor over “Contact Oakdale City Hall” in lefthand column, and then click on “Notify Oakdale Public Works.” That leads to options for forms in the lower lefthand column to report issues, including “Report Pothole.”
Call 651-730-2740

Lake Elmo
Call the Public Works Department at 651-747-3941.
Send an email to mbouthilet@lakelmo.org.


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