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To Fill A Pothole

P. Kenneth Burns

For highway maintenance crews throughout the region, March is pothole month. Frozen roads begin to thaw and expand as daytime temperatures rise, then freeze and constrict again at night. Pretty soon, yawning chasms open up in the streets, waiting to claim the front end alignment or suspension of any car that hits it wrong. And road crews are out making repairs.

A Baltimore County Bureau of Highway crew filled a pothole on East Joppa Road near Fairmont Avenue in Towson Tuesday morning.  But how did that crew know there was a pothole there or anywhere?  We can ask the same question for city crews.

The process in getting the craters filled in the county and Baltimore City is similar.

Snow routes become pothole routes

In both the city and the county, crews follow the same routes they would when plowing snow.

“We have crews working out of 11 shops throughout the county and they will travel their designated routes,” says Lauren Watley, spokeswoman for the Baltimore County Department of Public Works.

County crews also take reports from residents who call the county Bureau of Highways or log on to the county website.  Watley adds “once the request has been made, it is logged in to the Bureau of Highways.  It is then given to the designated shop for the area.”

In the city, the work is divided between two groups.

“We have crews that are assigned specifically for service requests and we also have crews that will patrol each snow zone,” says Richard Hooper, operations bureau chief for the Baltimore City Department of Transportation.  The crews operate in geographic sectors: northwest, southwest, northeast and southeast.

City residents can call 311 to report potholes.  They can track the request online with a confirmation number given by the operator.

The city fills an average of 100,000 potholes every year.  The city has filled 51,000 since the beginning of the year.

The county filled 64,000 potholes last year.  Numbers for this year are not available.  The number of potholes filled each year depends on the weather.

“In comparison to 2012, we had a really average and mild winter, we only filled about 40,000 potholes,” says Watley.

Weather-appropriate fixes

How those thousands of potholes are filled also depends on the weather.

The warmer weather is allowing crews to switch from the cold asphalt mix to the hot asphalt mix.

Watley says a hot mix would be ineffective in cold weather.

“If that hot mix is sitting in the back of a truck and its 40 degrees outside, there’s only about an hour and a half to two hour time span that mix will be hot enough,” Watley says.

Hooper says his crews use the cold mix as a temporary fix and return with the hot mix as the weather gets warmer.

“As the season progress and it’s getting warmer, now we can go back and pull out the patch and make pothole repairs,” he says.