The pothole war … a never ending battle waged in the streets of Muscatine

 

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It is a never ending battle in the war between city streets and winter weather. It is a battle for drivers as they face the many challenges of winter driving, and a battle for the work crews of the Street Maintenance Division of Muscatine’s Department of Public Works who also have many challenges related to upkeep of the streets during winter travel.

 

Those sometimes small, sometimes large, sometimes shallow, and sometimes deep potholes that somehow magically appear overnight to the detriment of the unaware motorist are a real concern to the City and to residents. The avalanche in the number of reported potholes is, at times, less than the number of actual potholes but the City does respond to each and every report and then some.

 

One key to successfully addressing this problem is the assistance from the public that the City receives. The City welcomes resident’s calls to the Department of Public Works (DPW) with information on the location of potholes throughout the community and this also helps City crews respond quicker to street needs. (See how to report a pothole below). Weather is a key to the severity and number of potholes, and is a determining factor of when City work crews are mobilized to fill the deformations in the pavement. The better the weather, the more potholes can be filled.

 

HOW POTHOLE FORMS

 

According to the Iowa Department of Transportation, potholes are the holes in the roadway that can be various shapes and sizes caused by the expansion and contraction of water after it has entered into the subsurface under the pavement from a crack in the surface. When water freezes, it expands.

 

Think of when ice cubes are made. A tray full of water is put into the freezer when you take the tray out of the freezer later, you will notice the water has expanded.

 

This same effect happens when water gets into the subsurface under the pavement. If it has a chance to freeze, it will take up more space under the pavement, and then the pavement will expand, bend or crack, which weakens the material. Then when ice melts, the pavement contracts and it leaves gaps or voids in the subsurface under the pavement, where water can get in again. If the water freezes and thaws over and over, the pavement may get very weak.

There is another thing that happens. As the weight of cars and trucks pass over the weak spot in the road, pieces of the roadway material weakened by the freeze-thaw effect get displaced or broken down from the weight, creating the pothole.

What happens when salt is brought into the picture? Water will freeze at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. When salt is used, it lowers the temperature that water will freeze, creating an artificial freeze-thaw cycle to occur. This happens more in the spring because of the melting that takes place and because the temperatures go between above freezing and below freezing very frequently and allows many freeze-thaw cycles to weaken the pavement.

 

COLD PATCH VS HOT MIX

 

Once a pothole develops, it needs to be patched or filled in. Two different types of repair methods are predominately used in this process – cold patch asphalt repair and hot mix asphalt repair. The City of Muscatine has also recently used full depth patching with concrete in larger damaged areas.

 

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Cold patch asphalt repairs can be used to quickly fill in pot holes and is available throughout the year. While cold patch is the “quick fix” and used by the City to repair most cracks and smaller potholes, it does not properly seal a pothole and does not prevent the pothole from forming again.

 

Hot mix asphalt repair addresses the underlying problems that caused the pothole by excavating the area around the pothole, and then filling and sealing the area with hot asphalt. However, hot mix requires the asphalt to be heated (temperatures range from 300 to 350 degrees) at an asphalt mixing plant and then transported to and poured before the mixture cools. While this product is a flexible mix that is highly resistant to weather and able to repel water, asphalt mixing plants usually only operate mid-March to mid-November when temperatures are 40 degrees or above.

 

Colder temperatures and the unavailability of hot mix during the colder months into early spring results in cold patch being the best option for most repairs during this time period. As the weather permits, crews from the Department of Public Works have been out to fill as many holes as possible with the cold patch that does not have to be heated.

 

These repairs, however, cannot be made at all times during the winter months. Snow covered streets often hide the developing potholes and City crews may also have to wait for water from melting snow to drain away. The City employs a throw-and-roll pothole repair strategy in the early stages of their battle against potholes where the cracks and/or potholes are cleaned out of water and debris with high pressured air, cold patch is throw into the crack and/or pothole, and a large truck drives over the patched area. While not a permanent solution, the temporary repair does help smooth out the streets with the area identified for a potentially more long-term solution during the warmer months.

 

REPORTING A POTHOLE

 

To report a pothole in the City of Muscatine, call the Department of Public Works at (563) 263-8933. To ensure that the repairs you are requesting are handled in a timely and efficient manner, please having the following information available at the time of your call:

  • Your name (optional)
  • Your address and daytime phone number (It is important that you provide a contact number in the event more information is needed)
  • The location of the pothole, including the nearest cross street and/or address
  • A description of the problem (There are other types of road defects that may appear as a pothole, but may require more intensive repairs)
  • Any other pertinent information that may need to be relayed to the crews about the area or the problem.

 

After receiving the information, a member of the DPW Street Maintenance Division will visit the site to determine the size and priority of the problem area so that the needed repairs can be scheduled.

 

Residents may also visit the City of Muscatine web site (www.muscatineiowa.gov) and click on the “Let Us Know” link. This link will take you to our request tracker where you can scroll down to the bottom of the page and select “pothole”. You will have to sign in or create an account to use the feature.

 

Once created, however, you will be able to use several other features on the city web site including “Notify Me”, which provides opportunities to receive notifications from a number of city departments, “Community Voice”, which allows you to comment and make suggestions in a public discussion forum, “OpenGov”, the official transparency site for the City of Muscatine, and you can even pay your parking tickets at “Online Payments”.