Repair crews try to keep up with spreading potholes
They're showing up everywhere, jarring highway motorists, and turning neighborhood streets and parking lots into obstacle courses. Masquerading as puddles, they blow tires, crush wheels, and send cars limping to repair shops.
They're showing up everywhere, jarring highway motorists, and turning neighborhood streets and parking lots into obstacle courses.
Masquerading as puddles, they blow tires, crush wheels, and send cars limping to repair shops.
Potholes are so numerous that some local officials have scheduled public-works crews on weekends to handle the backlog of complaints.
"My car was the third one in 10 minutes to flatten a tire on the same pothole" in Winslow Township, said Michelle Vitucci of Sicklerville. "I was so angry. You just feel so helpless."
And this is only the beginning.
As the temperature creeps up in coming weeks, an even bigger crop of potholes is expected, Pennsylvania and New Jersey transportation officials said.
Many badly cratered streets will have to be resurfaced, officials said. In the meantime, there are traffic backups caused by drivers slaloming around the hazards.
And the cost of the road work in overtime and patching materials is adding to a winter maintenance bill that was already inflated by multiple snow-removal efforts.
"We haven't had a winter like this . . . in probably forever," said Camden County Freeholder Ian Leonard, liaison to the county Department of Public Works.
In Philadelphia and surrounding counties, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is repairing road damage along more than 8,900 lane miles.
In the city, the pothole-related "calls that we're getting from 311 and our service requests are triple what they were last year," Steph Buckley, deputy commissioner for transportation in the Philadelphia Streets Department, said yesterday.
The city has sent out highway crews and two "Pothole Killers," trucks with equipment that blows debris from the holes and fills them with liquid asphalt.
Sections of Cottman and Grays Ferry Avenues are heavily pocked and Lincoln Drive has been littered with hubcaps from wheel-pothole impacts.
As though the potholes weren't enough, the city was forced to close the 2000 block of Walnut Street late yesterday when part of the street collapsed due to a leak in an underground sewer line.
In the Pennsylvania suburbs, crews have hit problem areas along Routes 1 and 252 in Delaware County; Routes 611 and 63 in Montgomery County; Cherry Road in Buckingham Township, and northbound Route 309 at the 152 interchange in West Rockhill Township in Bucks County; and King Road in West Whiteland Township and Sugartown Road in Easttown Township in Chester County.
"We're the Marines; we're on the front lines," said Nick Martino, PennDot director of maintenance for District Six.
Eugene Blaum, a PennDot spokesman, said the agency was "darn close" to depleting its approximately $18 million budget for winter services, which is bad news for next winter. When money is left over, he said, it's applied to paving, which prevents future potholes.
In New Jersey, road damage has been equally widespread. One large cavity took out the tires of about a half-dozen cars this month in the northbound lanes of I-295 near the Woodcrest station.
In Winslow Township, Michelle Vitucci, a nuclear-medicine technologist, was headed home last week on New Brooklyn Road when she had her pothole encounter.
"You don't see it coming," she said. "It's like a game on the road, trying to miss each pothole."
So far this year, the New Jersey Department of Treasury has received 53 requests for compensation from motorists whose cars were damaged on state roads, officials said. Thirty others are waiting to be entered. More than 600 claims were made in 2009.
Counties and municipalities also have received claims for road incidents for which they are responsible.
The job of filling potholes is up to public-works crews using "cold patch," a gravel-asphalt mix, to fix the worst offenders until a permanent repair can be made.
"A lot of the asphalt companies are closed right now. Asphalt won't work under 40 degrees," said Fran McCrory, a spokeswoman for the New Jersey Department of Transportation, which is responsible for about 12,000 miles of state roads. Hot-asphalt patches will have to wait.
So far, New Jersey Turnpike crews have fixed at least 1,300 potholes - double the number they addressed last year at this time, turnpike authority spokesman Joe Orlando said. About $400,000 has been spent on the repairs.
Winter road damage "has been a huge deal for us," said Charles Jones, a supervisor in Cherry Hill Township's highway department, as he worked with a crew filling a crater near Borton Mill and Warfield Roads. "We've fixed hundreds of potholes. It takes about 15 minutes to fill in a good-size one."
The roads have been under constant assault in recent months.
"The amount of salt we put on the roads, the freeze, thaw, and refreeze didn't help," said Dominic Vesper Jr., deputy administrator in charge of Camden County's Public Works Department. "It breaks down the road surface."
County officials are taking "a six-day approach" to keep up with the holes, Vesper said. "We have 40 to 50 employees attending to them and a crew of eight to 10 coming in on Saturdays."
Workers fill several hundred holes each weekday and 50 to 100 on Saturdays, Vesper said. "The costs are starting to add up," he said. "But it's a matter of public safety."
In Cherry Hill, the Department of Public Works spent $6,733 on patching materials from July 1 to Dec. 31, and nearly double that - $12,280 - from Jan. 1 to March 1. It also assigned a Saturday crew to road repairs.
So far, more than 2,000 potholes have been fixed in the township. The number of repairs "is off the charts," Cherry Hill spokesman Dan Keashen said. "There's no comparison. . . . These storms have taken the top prize for potholes."
In Camden, four public-works crews patched more than 800 potholes Monday, Mayor Dana L. Redd said.
In Burlington County, one of the worst pothole sites has been the Marlton Circle, where Routes 73 and 70 come together.
The road is under construction there and heavy equipment has exacerbated the problem.
When the temperatures hit the mid-50s and 60s, "that's when we will see more potholes rearing their ugly heads," Evesham Mayor Randy Brown said.
Though potholes have been a problem for motorists and government officials, they are a kind of blessing for repair shops.
At Moorestown Mall, Diane Rickman, a retail sales manager at Vespia's Goodyear car-care center, said the shop sold 15 tires and performed five alignments on Sunday, many of them pothole-related. The shop is running a "Pothole Special."
At Philadelphia Tire & Auto Service at Broad and Green Streets, manager John Gabriel said his shop had "probably sold 20 tires in the last two weeks - tires and a lot of wheels. Last week was pretty constant. You call the junkyard and you can't even get wheels."
Have you encountered gaping potholes? Report them on Philly.com's pothole tracker: www.philly.com/potholeEndText