When it rains in Anoka County, it pours potholes.
You think there are only two seasons in Minnesota — winter and road construction? There’s also Pothole Season, and it never ends, says Anoka County Highway Engineer Doug Fischer.
“We patch potholes year-round,” Fischer said. “We never stop.”
Particularly when you’re dealing with the kind of winter and spring we’ve had.
“It seems like we got the double whammy this year,” said Fischer. “We’ve had winters with lots of snow before, usually followed by a mild spring. But this is weird. And it’s hard to fight.”
Anoka County avoided the serious flooding that plagued much of Minnesota as summer began. But, like a car that swerves mightily on an uneven road, the county could not avoid potholes.
Winter’s blasts of subzero temperatures coupled with unrelenting snowfalls made it nearly impossible for crews to do emergency patching of the roads from January through March. Already behind schedule, the county prepared for April by authorizing overtime for highway crews to fix potholes. But those potholes quickly filled with rain.
“Because the weather was so wet and cold for so long, we fell behind — by about six weeks — fixing the same potholes over and over again,” Fischer said.
Crews, which devoted time to other stormwater issues, had to be rescheduled for pothole duty on three Saturday shifts in April. There was plenty to do.
The savage attack of winter’s extreme cold and snow forced county engineers to treat damaged roads with a “cold mix” during the winter — an ideal patch in good conditions, but one that inevitably invites another patch (and possibly another after that) under frigid conditions.
“We’re using it in the absolute worst conditions, when the ground is frozen. And we’re expecting this product to stick?” Fischer asked. “We know that we’re just buying time.”
Fischer has been working in Anoka County since 1991 and has seen all sorts of weather-related road catastrophes. And like the Iowa State linebacker he once was, he was ready to tackle this year’s pothole challenge head on.
“You can drive around the county and see some absolutely perfect, smooth roads,” he says. “But the weak links were exposed.”
‘We’re making progress’
But 2014 is only at halftime, and Fischer says things are turning around.
“As bad as the spring was, we’re making progress,” he said.
He said the county highway department fell six weeks behind in some areas, because of weather conditions.
But some of the adversely affected roads are due or scheduled for major overhauls anyway, he said. Others are being sealed and investments in newer pavements are being made. “We’ve covered, or will cover, all the wheel busters,” Fischer said.
“Our bad roads were really bad,” he said. “But when you look at the number of miles in that shape, there were actually less road miles adversely affected.
“We’re making progress.”
The delay in filling potholes affected county roads in another way.
“Right now,” Fischer said, “we’re behind in street sweeping.”