Cedar Rapids unveils new pothole-repair machine

Winter's deep frost penetration has made problem worse this season

Rick Smith
Published: February 25 2014 | 12:43 pm - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 4:08 am in

Put potholes on the list with death and taxes.

"For the most part, potholes (are) just a way of life for pavement management systems" is how Dave Elgin, the city’s public works director, put it on Tuesday.

Elgin and other top city leaders spoke at a news conference to show off the city’s new pothole-attack machine, a truck-mounted hopper that delivers hot asphalt into a pothole for crews with shovels to tamp into place.

The "Hot Patcher," manufactured by a Saginaw, Mich., company, eliminates the need for workers to shovel asphalt from a dump truck onto the streets, lessening the chance for worker injury and allowing more potholes to be filled during a shift, Elgin and Craig Hanson, the city’s public works maintenance manager, said.

The city has purchased three Hot Patchers at a cost of about $60,000 each to go with two, smaller, trailer-mounted versions that the city purchased five years ago at a cost of about $15,000 to $20,000 each, Hanson said.

Each of the three new hoppers is mounted on a truck chassis and can be removed and replaced by other chassis-mounted equipment such as leaf pickup units as the seasons change.

The city also is using a new mix of hot asphalt this pothole season that adheres better to the pavement, Elgin said.

Hanson said the city filled 66,949 potholes in the fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2012, and 119,631 in the fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2013. He said the city anticipates more than 100,000 this year as freeze-thaw cycles continue into the spring.

Potholes come to life, Elgin said, as water seeps into cracks in the pavement, freezes and lifts up the pavement, which fractures more as traffic passes over it. Eventually, the asphalt pops out where the pavement fatigue is the worst, Elgin said.

He said this winter has seen a particularly deep frost penetration of more than 5 feet in places, which he said has exacerbated the pothole creation process.

By way of context, Elgin said the city has about 1,475 of lane miles of street, or 100 million square feet of pavement. Potholes comprise less than 1 percent of the surface, he said.

Fixing a pothole cost about $10 to $15 a pothole in recent years, a figure that is now about $7 a pothole, he said.

At Tuesday’s event, Mayor Ron Corbett said the extent of the city’s pothole problems are "a symptom" of the poor condition of the city’s streets.

"And it will get better," he said.

Corbett and City Manager Jeff Pomeranz both said that voter approval in November to renew the city’s 1-percent local-option sales tax for 10 years to fix streets will start to improve city streets this year.

The city now has tagged its 10-year street-improvement program "Paving for Progress," which Pomeranz said would be a "long-term solution for our streets."

Hanson said the city’s Public Works Department fields more than 5,000 calls and emails a year from residents, and more than 1,000 are related to potholes, he said.

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