By John Loftus
You’d think that, with 15 storms this winter that together dropped more than 5 feet of snow, Philly would have set a new snowfall record, but, no, it didn’t. There’s still time, of course, to move up to No. 1. Spring doesn’t show up until the afternoon of March 20. Try to think warm thoughts until then.
However, the city is going to set one record, if it hasn’t already, and that’s for potholes. This year, Philly is expected to exceed its 2013 total of 11,000 potholes, according to Streets Department spokeswoman June Cantor.
That beats the John Lennon line from the Sgt. Pepper album, “Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire,” joked AAA Mid-Atlantic spokeswoman and Beatles fan Jenny Robinson.
“My apologies to the Beatles, but those thousands of potholes are a magical misery tour for motorists in Philadelphia,” she wrote in a March 5 email to the Northeast Times.
That pain isn’t just a jarring sensation. It’s bank account agony.
Nationwide, Robinson stated in an earlier news release, damage to autos caused by potholes will run $6.4 billion. Suspension repairs can drain $2,500 from a motorist’s wallet, she said. Wheels can cost $50 to $500 to repair, she added. That’s not counting cash for tire repairs or new tires.
AAA Mid-Atlantic saw record-breaking tire-related requests for assistance in January and February, Robinson said, topping out at 67,621 in the auto club’s five-county Greater Philadelphia territory, making this January and February the first and third busiest ever (in terms of tire-related requests), with the second busiest month coming in December 2010.
Other than keeping your wheels parked until summer, what’s the best way to cope with the city’s streetscape craters? The best way, Robinson said, is just slow down.
Potholes are no piece of cake for the city’s finances, either. The average cost of materials to fill a pothole in Philly is $22, Cantor told the paper in a March 4 email. Multiply number of potholes against that cost and it’s easy to see a citywide tab of almost a quarter-million dollars.
“PennDOT annually budgets $2.5 million for roadway patching in the five-county Philadelphia region,” according to spokesman Eugene Blaum. “We will surpass that amount due to the severe and early outbreak of potholes this winter, but we will adjust our general maintenance budget and continue to repair potholes throughout the spring.”
PennDOT has used 4,000 tons of patching material in the Philadelphia region since Dec. 1, 2013, Blaum reported.
“This is more than double the amount of patching material used the two previous winters during the same time frame,” he said.
It’s in March that pothole repair work will be at its height, Cantor said, but she added that the city started last month. February and March also are the top months for holes to starting potting the roads, Robinson said.
“Potholes can be cold-patched anytime,” Robinson said, but hot asphalt can’t be poured unless the temps are above 40 degrees, which usually doesn’t happen consistently until March. Average temps for this time of year, she said, are about 47 degrees, but that has not been the case this year.
“We’ve been far below the average so far,” she said.
You are likely to see much of that street repair work being done in right lanes. Why? Right lanes are the most traveled parts of roads, Robinson said. Poor drainage areas or areas where water ponds or collects near a road would be spots where potholes could break out, Blaum said.
That is further explained by what causes the holes. Water gets underneath the roadway. The seep’s impact, since water expands when it freezes, is that the ice puts pressure on the road surface from below while the cars traveling over the surface put pressure on it from above.
Since that’s the way the blacktop crumbles, it makes sense that there would be more potholes in right lanes.
Streets paved long ago are more pothole-prone, Cantor stated.
“Potholes tend to form on older streets where surface cracking has already occurred which allows water to seep into the asphalt,” Cantor stated. “Potholes also tend to occur on reinforced concrete bridge decks when the reinforcing steel becomes corroded.”
Asphalt-covered roads are more pothole-prone, Blaum said.
Concrete highways, therefore, might have fewer potholes. However, they’re more expensive to build and maintain, Robinson said.
Hot weather might cause “blow ups,” pothole-like problems, on concrete roads.
“During a string of excessively hot days, concrete slabs may expand to the point where two slabs push against each other. The force then causes the slabs to “lift” and this results in a pavement heave and subsequent pavement damage,” Blaum said. This does happen in the Greater Philadelphia area, he said. It’s happened on Route 422 in Montgomery County, he said.
It’s not accurate that a pothole is a pothole is a pothole because not every dent in a road’s surface is, according to the Streets Department’s website. There are differences, and they’re not subtle.
“Potholes tend to be a bowl-shaped defect,” according to information on Streets’ site. “Ditches are usually cleanly cut rectangles. Cave-ins, or sinkholes, are large depressions that can be four feet by four feet in area or larger.”
No matter what it’s called, the world record holding hole is probably in the United Kingdom, which has been breaking centuries-old rainfall records this year. According to The Times of London, a 16-foot-by-6-foot hole that is 15 feet deep recently shut down a 10-mile stretch of the M2 in North Kent, England. So far, nothing of that magnitude has been reported in Philly.
Spot a pothole? Report its exact location and size as well as whether or not the hole is in a traffic lane or parking lane to the Streets Department at 215-686-5560. Learn more online at philadelphiastreets.com/newsroom/news-item-detail/streets-department-in-gear-for-early-pothole-season. ••