Minnesota cities launching the war on potholes

  • Article by: BILL MCAULIFFE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 1, 2010 - 10:20 PM

Hot mix is the weapon of choice for pothole patchers - unavailable till temps start to climb. But now that the stuff is here, let the battle begin. It may not be spring flowers, but the hard-bonding asphalt has arrived to fill in winter's potholes

In the war on potholes, the surge has begun.

St. Paul's "hot mix" asphalt plant opened for the season Monday, starting to churn out tons of the stuff that could fill the craters in Twin Cities streets for months instead of minutes.

It's one of the earliest openings for the plant, a rush to replace the wintertime patch material that has proved inadequate in the worst pothole season in memory for many drivers. St. Paul used one-third more "cold mix" this season than it would in a normal winter and ran out of the stuff.

"It's a sign of spring, for sure," said St. Paul street maintenance engineer Kevin Nelson. Rising temperatures make the hot mix easier to produce and transport, and enable it to bond with pavement better than cold mix.

The rickety asphalt plant in St. Paul's Frogtown neighborhood can make about 1,000 tons of hot mix every day. Despite the depth, breadth and number of potholes, St. Paul will use only a fraction of that each day. That makes the plant a key supplier for Minneapolis, suburbs and cities as far away as Red Wing once it gets up to full capacity.

"As soon as they tell us the mix will be coming out of the hopper, we'll be over there," said Mike Kennedy, director of transportation maintenance and repair for street-torn Minneapolis.

Piles of steaming asphalt may not delight the deprived northern senses after a long winter as some tender pastel blossoms would. But they promise some improvement for metro drivers who've been dodging and banging through potholes like Olympic skiers for more than two months.

"There are so many you start to name them," said David Wilbanks, owner of Wilbur's Auto Service in St. Paul.

Pothole casualties mount

Wilbanks and other auto repair people report inordinate numbers of cars coming in for wheel, tire and steering and suspension repairs due to their trips through potholes. A Countryside Saab and VW customer's air bags deployed after the car hit a pothole last month.

"It's like hitting your car with a hammer that weighs as much as your car," Wilbanks said.

"If you have an older car, pothole season will bring out the worst in it," he added, acknowledging that this one has been good for business.

Unlike patches made with cold mix, which bonds only temporarily with pavement, patches done with hot mix in the coming weeks should endure at least through the spring, Kennedy said. Then many will be replaced with "permanent" patches as workers square off former potholes, blow out debris, dry the holes, coat them with adhesive, fill them with hot mix and tamp it down.

But late winter and spring snows could divert street crews into plowing and away from patching, Kennedy noted. More snow would also mean more moisture seeping into pavement cracks, freezing, thawing and creating more potholes.

Bill McAuliffe • 612-673-7646


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