March 19, 2008


Roads feel brunt of winter weather

City struggles to keep up with repairs during worst pothole situation in years


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Cortland DPW workers Mike Kanellis, right, and Bob Epp fill a deep pothole on Greenbush Street Tuesday morning. This winter has been one of the worst for potholes, according to the men.

Staff Reporter

City Department of Public Works employees Bob Epp and Mike Kanellis were out all day Tuesday patching potholes.
Epp, who has been working for the DPW for 31 years, said this is one of the worst years he has seen for potholes.
“This weather is ideal for potholes, with all the freezing and thawing,” Epp said. “We patch the same holes just about every day.”
DPW Superintendent Chris Bistocchi said between 12 to 15 employees are outside daily patching potholes with a winter cold patch mix. The mix is made of tar, oil and gravel and is used for only for temporary pothole relief.
“The oil in the mix stays pliable and the mix can be shoveled into the potholes,” he said. “I couldn’t even guess the number (of potholes).”
But with rain and traffic, the cold patch gets driven out of the holes and requires workers to repatch the pothole.
The city also uses a spray hot patch mix that is made on site in a machine. The machine heats the mix to 180 degrees and then it cools once set in place.
Brian Vaden, 47, who has lived in the city for two years now, agreed that the potholes are much worse this year than last.
“They are very bad. My muffler came down because of a pothole the other day, and I don’t see much repairing done. In fact, none at all,” Vaden said. “Sometimes you can’t avoid them (the potholes). Coming down the street today I had to take the chance of moving towards a truck or hitting a pothole. I moved towards the truck — I took that chance.”
Henry Cusson, 35, of Cortland, said he drives through the city daily, trying to avoid the potholes.
“I think they’re ridiculous,” Cusson said. “It feels like your car is going to fall apart. Ninety percent of the side streets they have quote unquote repaired have been dug up from the plows.”
Bistocchi said potholes are formed through a freezing and thawing process.
“More or less it’s been a warm February and March with a lot of water that’s getting under the blacktop,” Bistocchi said, adding that the potholes are the worst he has seen in his five years at the DPW. “Not to mention the water tables are up … it’s kind of a double-edged sword.”
The high water tables result in a capillary action, which causes the water from the ground to seep into the pavement.
Bistocchi said DPW crews work on the same streets daily, always patching holes on the “main drags” in the city, including streets such as Homer and Groton avenues, and Church and North Main streets. The crews also check the side streets and repair those potholes when necessary.
“We get a lot of phone calls. I understand people’s frustration, but it is nothing we can control,” he added. “We fill the holes daily … this is a temporary fix until we get through the winter months. Once the asphalt plant opens and makes hot mix, we can permanently fix the holes.”
Brian Renna, a spokesperson for Cortlandville-based asphalt manufacturer Suit-Kote Corp., said the company plans to open sometime in April, although there is no set date.
James Place, owner of Place Insurance on North Main Street, said the city has been receiving many more damage claims this year than in previous years because of the severe pothole situation in the city. Place Insurance is under contract to handle claims under the city’s self-insurance program.
“The pothole claims this year are probably the worst in a decade … this is just unprecedented,” Place said. “We’ve had years with no damage claims. A normal year we get one to five, but we have seen more than that this year and we can assume there are people that haven’t filed claims either.”
Place said as of today, Place Insurance has received 10 pothole damage claims, compared to one claim that was filed in 2007.
For 2007 and so far in 2008, no claims have been granted.
Place said the city is not liable for damages to vehicles unless a written notice is sent to the city notifying Bistocchi of a hazardous situation and the city does not take care of the situation within a reasonable time frame.
“It has to be written and specific,” he added. “The city isn’t liable until they have time to repair the situation … the city has always been of the philosophy that we are going to fix the situation on an immediate basis. They are only negligent if they fail to act in a responsible and timely manner.”
The idea behind the city provision is really because it is almost impossible for the city to be aware of every pothole or any other dangerous situation within the city on a daily basis without notification.
Place said every claim is reviewed and investigated to ensure the city has done what it needs to do.
“I have seen them patch a hole at 9 a.m. and by 11 a.m., it’s (the cold patch) all out and they have to repatch the same hole,” Place said. “We know we have a problem, but until the asphalt companies open with hot patch, we have no way of permanently taking care of the problem … people need to take it upon themselves to be aware of the potholes and drive cautiously.”

Potholes 101

Potholes form through a freezing and thawing process.
Roads are built in layers of compacted gravel, then a binder, which is asphalt made of larger stones that allows for drainage of water, and the top blacktop or asphalt layer.
Because of the heat during the summer months and traffic, cracks eventually form in the streets, and rainwater and melting snow and ice find their way into the cracks.
During the winter months, the water that goes into the cracks freezes and expands. As day breaks, the pavement heats up, the water melts and the traffic displaces the asphalt, resulting in potholes.
Patching potholes improves safety by reducing roughness and can also reduce the rate of deterioration of nearby pavement. The three different types of patches are semi-permanent, spray and demand, according to the Cornell Local Roads Program pavement maintenance manual published in March 2006.
Semi-permanent patching is done in the summer months to fix potholes, repair poor patches and replace demand patches placed earlier in the year, using hot mix asphalt.
Spray patching is done with specialized equipment and can be planned or demand driven. Spray patching requires a special truck or trailer-mounted equipment, which heats the asphalt on-site to fill potholes.
Demand patching is unplanned repairs to potholes performed in winter and spring months, using cold patch mix.
— Aimee Milks