Twin Cities road crews’ refrain: plow, patch, repeat

  • Article by: STEVE BRANDT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 24, 2013 - 9:26 AM

Pothole fighters in the Twin Cities say they’ve been busy plowing instead of patching.

Wondering if the potholes you’re driving into or veering around each day will ever get fixed?

Blame the weather.

Part of the delay in the normal patching this time of year is the unusual yo-yoing between snow and normal April weather, say pothole fighters across the metro area.

“What’s changed for us is that it stopped snowing and then started snowing, and then stopped snowing and started snowing,” said Mark McLarty, a maintenance foreman for Hennepin County.

On Tuesday, for example, “Priority 1 was getting the snow off the roads,” he said. “Tomorrow, we’ll have every patch truck on the road.”

With what should be a warmup headed to the Twin Cities later this week, crews will be scrambling to get caught up on the annual patching chore.

In the meantime, Minneapolis has been relying on about a half-dozen crews on duty responding to complaints from motorists even though the city’s street maintenance supervisor judges this to be the second straight spring with fewer potholes than the norm.

“Of course, anybody who has hit a pothole on Minneapolis streets would disagree with us,” Mike Kennedy said Tuesday.

By car or bike, a bone-jarring ride

Weather is one factor in each spring’s potpourri of potholes. But increased spending has helped to upgrade some of Minneapolis’ worst streets. Downtown streets have gotten a federally assisted shave and topping with fresh paving. Some streets such as Riverside Avenue and parts of Nicollet Avenue have been reconstructed.

Now one of the city’s more notorious sections of parkway is nearing a renovation. Starting Monday, West River Parkway will be blocked between S. 4th Street by the West Bank campus of the University of Minnesota and Franklin Avenue, ground down to a depth of 7 inches and repaved. It’s a section where southbound cars have been known to veer into the oncoming lane to avoided the heavily patched and potholed pavement. Bikers also find weaving through the stretch a choice between risking a bent rim or a rattling ride.

Just ask Sarah Dietrich of the Longfellow neighborhood. Last Thursday, driving downtown in a thick snowstorm, she plunged her low-slung Prius into a pothole she described as at least 8 inches deep. That dislodged the lower grille of her car, which is in the shop to be checked for further damage.

She normally takes a faster route, but figured the parkway would be better during a snowstorm. She went back the next day to photograph the pit, and saw so many motorists cratering that she moved a nearby warning sign and placed it in the hole.

“I saw people in the middle of the day doing what I did over and over and over,” she said.

But not all streets are headed for the makeover that this section will get by the end of May, so pothole crews across the metro area will get a workout catching up.

Plowing vs. patching

Cities have been alternating between deploying snowplows and pothole-patching crews.

One problem this year, according to Dave Hunt, spokesman for St. Paul’s Department of Public Works, is that plowing snow after some patches have been laid can rip them apart. “Normally we wouldn’t be plowing after we patch,” he said.

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  • Sarah Dietrich of Minneapolis was driving on West River Parkway near Franklin Av. last Thursday morning when she hit a pothole so jarring it damaged her car.

  • Cars driving on E. Minnehaha Parkway along Lake Nokomis tried to dodge potholes in the roadway Tuesday.

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