Potholes can rattle your teeth


(Photo by Dion Ogust)

Driving warily these days? Been hearing any horror stories about potholes and the damage they do?

“Scan the road ahead to avoid the worst of them. Make sure your tires are properly inflated to avoid flat tires and bent rims,” reads the AAA warnings. “If you do get a flat, put on your hazards and do your best to limp your car out of traffic.”

A call out to local highway superintendents around the area have found a consensus: this year’s not as bad as some in remember, but the freeze/thaw cycles, plus piles of rain, have created a ripe condition for potholes in our roads. Quick repairs have been achieved, using up a lot of man-hours, and the City of Kingston has even used a third repair truck on the occasional weekend when alerted to bad situations by local police.


“All I know is that 28 is a mess,” said Hurley town supervisor John Perry of the region’s main thoroughfare up into the Catskills, a state highway. “And that we haven’t had many complaints about our own roads.”

Like most municipalities in Ulster County outside the City of Kingston, the breakdown of roads in Hurley (and Woodstock, Saugerties and Shandaken) comes down to approximately one third state-owned, one third county, and one third town or village maintained.

Although it’s difficult to reach anyone speaking officially for the state Department of Transportation, those in the road repair world invariably agree that the pothole problem this year — while not as bad as some notorious previous seasons (anyone remember 1994?) — has been made worse than usual by the fact of the January deep freeze being followed by a series of warmer spells and heavy rains. Those, Woodstock Highway Superintendent Mike Reynolds and others said, is just what you need to create potholes. And keep them re-occurring despite frequent cold patches.

“It’s after the deep cold lets go that roads take a real beating,” said Reynolds. “Just look at the recent week when we had a 70 degree day followed by a snow storm. You get in and repair something like that, but then it’s a crap shoot what happens after. Fortunately, we’ve not had any holes this year big enough to swallow a Volkswagen.”

That said, AAA of the Hudson Valley has reported a surge in flat tires caused by potholes nearly double this year, with a 478 number for the February 1-19 period in 2017 and 842 during the same time period this year.

Freeze-thaw cycles

The way the science of potholes works, a combination of the wear and tear of snow plowing and freeze-thaw cycles allow melted water to seep into cracks in a road’s asphalt and then expand after freezing, which then bursts pavement and further works away at it once the ice returns to water. As cars continue to drive over the resulting hole or fissure, the situation worsens.

The way highway and public works departments fix these problems is with a substance known as cold patch. As Reynolds and Kingston Public Works supervisor Joseph Chenier noted, you need to blow the water out of a pothole first using a leaf blower, fill it, then flattening the fix with one’s truck tires…and hope it doesn’t rain right away.

Saugerties town highway superintendent Doug Myer added that potholes tend to occur “wherever there’s a soft spot under the blacktop,” which means that all cold patch fixes need revisiting in the summer “when you can dig the whole soft spot out and really build it all back up fully.” Such permanent repair is done with hot asphalt, only available in spring and summer, and involves a crew “milling” the road, taking off up to 2 inches of asphalt, and fully repaving.

“The cold patches we use this time of year are a band aid so people don’t hurt their cars,” Myer said. “Yet the materials still cost twice your hot asphalt.”

Twisting and turning

While some larger cities in the region have started shifting from the sorts of cold patch to a material known as DuraPatch, applied from a machine that can attach to plow trucks if they’re not being used for heavy snow situations (or there’s been much rain), Reynolds said he’s still okay with the improvements his old stand-by cold patch has made in recent years. With new ingredients, he explained, the stuff applies and holds together better and longer. But how long such a patch will last still comes down to weather conditions…and traffic.

“The reason you get such potholes in certain areas, like where the road meets a parking lot, has to do with car tires twisting and turning,” he said. Asked for some of the worst examples around town, though, he demurred beyond a mention of situations along Mill Hill Road and Tinker Street, a state road, and Glasco Turnpike between Route 212 and West Saugerties Road, which is overseen by the county.

Chenier, speaking about the region’s pothole situation this winter in Kingston, said his worst cases have been along Albany Avenue and “Broadway under the underpass,” both heavily traveled routes. He added a second patch truck this year, with a third on certain weekends whenever he’s gotten police department calls about cars swerving into opposing lanes to miss potholes.

“We’re handling it, but look forward to bigger repairs when it gets warm,” he said. “We’ve had to do a number of fixes where the material we’ve patched with gets popped out before it’s had time to settle.”

As for how long this year’s pothole season lasts — whether it’s as bad as Kingston’s, as light as Myer says it’s been in Saugerties, or a return to the past as Reynolds says of Woodstock’s roads — no one wanted to say much, beyond some jokes about groundhogs.

“I’m hoping that we see winter tapering back by the end of March,” Mike Reynolds said. “But I’m no where near ready to start thinking it’s over yet.”

Drive safely.