“Oh, God, that pothole was there when I was learning how to drive, and now I’m teaching my daughter to drive and it’s still there.”
— Livery driver, driving Broadway under the railroad overpass.
“Busted axle shafts. Snapped tie-rods. Exploded tires.”
A mechanic at the J&H Tire and Auto Center on Cornell Street goes down the list of bad outcomes a driver can expect after hitting a pothole at high speed.
“You’re going along at 30 m.p.h. even, and bang! There was no orange warning sign or maybe there was but you didn’t see it. It’s too late now. That new clickity sound coming from your tire could be a demolished CV joint.”
In any city with heavy precipitation, drivers come to loathe potholes. Kingstonians are no exception.
A mere depression on a road surface, the cracked and crumbling beginnings of something deeper, or an outright sinkhole to the underworld, a pothole is usually the result of water pooling in the underlying soil. Once settled in place, the pooled water expands and contracts with seasonal changes in temperature, stressing and eroding the asphalt above and beside it. Vehicles passing over the affected area do the rest.
At first blush, it seems easy enough to just fill in the open hole in the road with asphalt and let the passing traffic take care of the compaction. This is known as throw-and-go,
style of year-round repair common to rural areas and poverty-stricken regions. In the case of Kingston, it’s used primarily between the months of November to March, when winter cold holds sway.
The only advantage of this method is that the unheated asphalt, known as cold patch, plugs holes even when the temperatures are below freezing. It’s a stopgap measure to get the driving populace over the icy hump and into the springtime.
From April to October, the repair job can be done right. The old surface of the asphalt road is ground down with a machine called a miller. A jackhammer then breaks through the surface of what remains. A large water-cooled saw cuts a square hole and any remaining rubble is removed with an enormous vacuum tube attached to a truck. Drainage solutions are applied, and when all has been accomplished a dense, hot-mix asphalt is poured in to patch the hole. Then the new asphalt is tamped down. This is how a pothole is fixed properly.
The annual effort to repatch, retread and resurface Kingston’s roads is in full swing. Mayor Steve Noble’s weekly message keeps the public up to date as to which local roads are scheduled to be fixed and when.
On Broadway between Albany Avenue and Grand Street, there has been an intense state and city focus on tearing up the roadway, replacing ancient pipes, installing new lighting, adjusting the manholes, changing the traffic pattern, repaving the road surfaces, and adding trees and street furniture — all the while leaving enough room in the wide central artery for ambient traffic.
Up and down Broadway, the side roads are impeded by rows of traffic cones and horizontal white boards hashed with diagonal orange stripes. The smoky reek of bubbling asphalt hangs in the air. Long-necked excavators peel back the ground. Dump trucks trundle back and forth, heavy with loads of gravel or filled with the rubble that was dug out and saved for recycling.
The din rises above even the thick lunch-hour traffic. Suntanned workers dripping sweat guide spinning saws through materials that seem harder than steel. It is a strange thing to accept that concrete is soft, that steel can be cut through, and that asphalt is flexible.
Through various revenue streams, the City of Kingston has accumulated the money long ago for the asphalt milling machine, for the pavement saw, the jackhammer, the single-drum vibratory roller. These words are a poetry of sorts for the workers who must tame the broken streets.
Even though these are good union jobs, the work of repairing potholes on the roads can be a thankless enterprise. Extreme weather. Dangerous environs. Backbreaking labor but the sort of labor where, as one worker puts it, “When you do good, nobody remembers. When you do wrong, nobody forgets.”
Wearing a reflective orange vest, a road worker calling himself Sammy T. is on a smoke break. “Just ’cause you see a hole in the ground, don’t assume it’s one of ours,” he says. “Could be utility workers dug the hole. Filling them sloppy. They pay private companies to come along after them, and do it correct. And we’re not out on the roads that connect to the highways. That’s New York State. There’s a lot of people doing work around here right now.”
He pinches his cigarette off before it’s finished and puts it in a cigarette box. “Well,” he says, “back to work.”
Grin and bear it
Despite the considerably painful damages that Broadway construction has inflicted on local vehicles, Kingston mayor Steve Noble has remained relentlessly positive. The construction will be over soon, he has assured his local audience, and Kingston’s infrastructure will end up considerably improved.
“This has been a very busy and productive construction season for us here in the City of Kingston,” reported Noble in his weekly message to his constituents. “Just this week, construction for the Broadway-Grand intersection improvements project began, and the DOT team paved Washington Avenue from Hurley Avenue to the bridge over Esopus Creek. We know this may feel like a lot of detour signs, but we’re making great progress in improving the city’s infrastructure for our residents.”
Each week, the mayor tells residents which roads are scheduled for paving. This week, for instance, the list consists of Hunter Street from Wurts to Ravine and McEntee from Broadway to West Pierpont. Weather permitting, the paving will take place on from August 9 to August 14.
The city Department of Public Works’ division of paving and repair of roads must coordinate closely in a project as extensive as that on Broadway with some of the eight other DPW divisions, such as those in charge of the sanitary sewers and the runoff.
Much of the information on paving in this article was supplied by Maureen Topple, the DPW’s principal account clerk.
Kingston has planned for the funding of the Broadway rehabilitation project, and the recent and expected influx of new federal funding for infrastructure will leave the city on a solid financial footing.
— Geddy Sveikauskas