WILKES-BARRE — Beware — potholes are part of the asphalt landscape, some large enough to jolt your car, bend your rims and drive you to shout loud enough to frighten your passengers, children and pets.
Yes, Northeastern Pennsylvania, the annual crevices are here, and despite efforts to patch them, they often find you before the street department finds them.
And according to experts, there will be more potholes out there this year than in recent years due to fluctuations in temperatures, lots of moisture and copious use of road salt.
Mike Taluto, spokesman for Pennsylvania Department of Transportation in Dunmore, said crews have been filling potholes with cold patch since early December.
“The significant potholes in Luzerne County are utility cuts and we monitor them and notify permits when they need attention,” he said. “If these utility cuts need immediate attention, we will fill them as to not have a hazard on our roadway.”
Butch Frati, Wilkes-Barre’s operations director, said public works employees have been working on potholes for weeks.
“This year is far worse than any year since I’ve been working for the city,” Frati said. “We try to stay on top of them as best we can. If people encounter potholes, we ask they call the city to report them and we will dispatch a crew as soon as possible to get it fixed.”
Frati said weather has been the main culprit.
He said when temperatures turn from mild to cold and back to mild again, potholes seem to pop up everywhere. Two weeks ago the temperature hit the 60s, and in recent days the thermometer dipped below zero.
“The water seeps into cracks in roadway and saturates the sub-base,” Frati said. “When it freezes, it expands, pushing up and the asphalt surface becomes compromised and the road starts deteriorating.”
Recent excessive snowfall has resulted in much more salt applied to roadways, causing more deterioration of streets.
According to the National Weather Service in Binghamton, N.Y., December saw temperatures range from the high 30s to mid 50s in the first 10 days of the month, then dropping to the 20s and lower the next 10 days.
Just before Christmas, temperatures rose again, getting to as high as 60, before heading down into the 20s and teens at the end of the month. Rain fell hard in early December and several snow storms followed.
“Extreme salt usage also contributes to the development of potholes,” Frati said. “The salt eats away at the road surface.”
Frati said utility cuts in the roadway are often not adequately restored, making those areas susceptible to pothole development.
“The cuts are made by the water or gas company,” Frati said. “And the city is left to deal with them.”
Frati said recent weather issues, such as several snow storms, coupled with the holidays, have caused backups with collections.
Frati said that since 2004, the city has had an aggressive paving program, which helps reduce the number of potholes because a better road surface helps prevent cracks from developing. Frati said the city spends between $10,000 and $15,000 per year on materials to fill potholes.
“Plus, it takes up a lot of time,” he said.
Traveling around county roads can be harrowing at times. Potholes pop up and cars swerve to avoid a jolt that could result in the driver’s head hitting the inside of the car roof.
And the longer potholes aren’t repaired, the deeper and wider they get.
Issue for PennDOT
Dennis Giordano of PennDOT, said all county maintenance offices plan for and patch potholes during the spring of every year, utilizing portable pothole patching machines, as well as manual milling of the holes to ensure a vertical edge, and fill them with hot asphalt, and compact to specifications.
Giordano said there are a large number of roadways that have “exceeded their useful pavement life.” He said the issue will be addressed systematically over the next few years.
Like Frati, Giordano said potholes are caused by roadway deterioration, and some by utility cuts.
“What has made matters much worse, is that we have experienced extreme temperature fluctuations,” Giordano said. “The rapid changes in temperatures affect the freeze-thaw cycles thus forming an unusually large amount of potholes.”