MANCHESTER, NH – Potholes in February are as predictable as Punxsutawney Phil and President’s Day – without the joy of a pudgy rodent photo op, or a day off from school.
In fact, pothole season in Manchester means city road crews are out in force patching potholes from the time they clock in, says Public Works Director Kevin Sheppard.
“I don’t want to tell you this, but when I walked in this morning I was told we got 98 reports overnight,” says Sheppard. Reports came in through a mix of the 24/7 dispatch number (603-624-6444,) as well as the handy all-purpose Manchester NH Connect app, for reporting everything from potholes and parking meter glitches, to graffiti and street obstructions. “[Pothole reporting] is good information, as it allows us to concentrate where we’re going to be focusing our efforts, and in the long run, to evaluate which roads need a treatment plan for the coming year.”
Sheppard says the city uses a “hot mix” of asphalt patch from Brox Industries in Dracut, Mass.
“We send our trucks down there early in the morning so when the guys come in they’re ready to go out on the streets,” Sheppard says. “We find the hot mix much more effective than cold patch.”
Because it’s peak pothole season, the city has maximized its efforts, sending out five trucks daily over the last few days, says Sheppard. Main roads are a priority, but he says crews try to respond to every call, and encourages the public to try the Manchester Connect app, part of the SeeClickFix municipal software system, as it creates an instant work order for the highway department.
While potholes aren’t breaking news, understanding how they happen helps explain why they seem to pop up out of nowhere. As temperatures rise and fall, water that gets through the pavement cracks can wash away silt below the surface, creating voids, while water that remains refreezes. It’s the constant expanding and contracting of the subgrade material plus the constant pounding from vehicles that eventually leads to potholes. Sheppard says that’s one reason subgrade matters.
“The solution to potholes is making sure you get a good subgrade material,” says Sheppard. During regular roadwork season, crews dig a core through the asphalt to see whether there’s a need for subgrade containment, which also determines which roads make the list for repaving as part of the city’s ongoing road repavement program.
However, potholes aren’t bad for everyone.
Case in point: On Feb. 11 I hit a pothole masquerading as a puddle at the East Side Plaza. It was a dark and rainy night. I just didn’t see it coming. The disquieting thud of my car gave me pause, but I made it home and didn’t think anything more of it. However, by Monday, my rubber was hitting the road like a pancake. Fortunately, I noticed it while still in my driveway. A nice guy from Performance Towing and Recovery came to my rescue within about 20 minutes of a call to my roadside assistance hotline, and he got me back on the road with my spare tire. As I thanked him, he told me he’d already changed a bunch of flats that day. I dodged several more potholes on my way to Town Fair Tire, where Ken told me I was just one of the many pothole casualties who’d walked, shellshocked, through their doors. For the cost of a new tire, and a tip for the tow guy, I’m a survivor of pothole season.
Sadly, I realize it’s not over yet, and will be driving with cautious optimism that I’ve paid my dues to the winter of 2018.
But just the same, I asked Sheppard if many people try to get the city to pay for car repairs necessary due to potholes. He said when those calls come in, he refers them to Kevin O’Neill in the city’s risk management department, but the likely answer will be that potholes – like predicting six-more weeks of winter, the birth of a future President, or a flash flood caused by a water main break on a city street – are considered acts of God.