About the time you start to notice the “first robin of springtime,” other telltale signs of the season start to appear.
When the mercury rises and the ice recedes, revealing miles of pothole-riddled road, local patching crews hit the streets with stop-gap efforts to make the lanes safer.
By 7:45 a.m., Peru’s patch crews start their day with “hot box” trailers of warmed cold patch mix and a list of places where holes have caused blowouts, tripped residents or otherwise prompted complaint. Each of Peru’s trailers can hold about two tons of patch, and with two crews working, a busy day can mean laying 14 to 16 tons of patch into Peru’s roads, according to water department laborer John Birkenbeuel.
They’ll have to wait for even warmer weather to make lasting repairs, according to La Salle public works director Jeff Bumgarner, but in the meantime, they do what they can to keep the roads drivable.
“We obviously have a lot of potholes and we’re making plans — we’re basically going out and patching them as we find them,” Bumgarner said. In La Salle, repairs started more than a month ago, while winter maintained its icy grip on the city.
Patch a hole, patch it again … and again
He explained how workers use a cold patch mix as a temporary repair.
“It’s basically just a pliable asphalt that kind of stays viscous at warmer temperatures, and as it’s packed in, it kind of sets up,” he said. “The ideal is to get in when the weather improves and you can get actual hot mix asphalt, cut the bad area out, fill it, roll it, to make a long-term repair.”
When workers patch roads in cold, wet weather, the mix doesn’t adhere as well to the road — and that makes it easy for the fix to come loose when the next storm hits and the plows scrape the pavement again. That means some problem areas need to be redone more than once throughout the transition from winter to spring, according to Tom Schaefer, Illinois Department of Transportation traffic engineer.
In other words, there’s just one way to avoid potholes in the springtime: “Move to Arizona, where they don’t have frost,” joked Andy Dellinger, laborer with Peru public works department.
IDOT crews have been cold patching state roads since January. In District 3, which includes La Salle County, that adds up to 4,000 miles of lanes.
“It’s been a more brutal winter — we had more deep freezes and so we’ve been doing more cold patching,” Schaefer said. “You’re getting complaints and you have to fill the holes.”
“With these warmer days in March, whatever material you can get down, hopefully it will stay longer,” he added.
In Spring Valley, workers already have used about 42 tons of patch in two months, superintendent Jeff Norton estimated. That’s almost half what the city used in all of 2013.
“The extreme cold and freeze and thaw just kind of blew up roads everywhere,” Norton said.
Keeping U.S. 6 in driving condition is a priority for the department, and Norton said it’s common to have two crews out each day, unless other priorities arise, such as water leaks or plugged sewers.
“We’re trying our best to get everything in every part of town done,” Norton said.
In Peru, co-superintendent of public works Jeff King said two crews have been at work, daily, since the worst snow stopped.
“All they’re doing is trying to get the holes filled in for right now,” King said.
More work after water breaks
One concern on King’s mind is making more permanent repairs to areas that suffered water breaks this winter.
“The frost was so thick, we had to jackhammer through the pavement and the dirt,” Birkenbeuel said. The frozen ground also made it difficult to locate the source of water main breaks, since the water often surfaced farther from the break than is typical in warm weather. That meant crews had to dig and search for the broken section of pipe, turning 3-hour repair jobs into 4- or 5-hour jobs, he said.
While those have been temporarily patched, King said the city would pour concrete in those areas when the weather is warm enough.