With two months of winter still ahead, thousands of potholes have sunk deep and wide in just about every Luzerne County alley, street and highway.
The scars from winter’s chill have motorists moving slowly, easing around bumps and buckles in the road. If they’re not wary, potholes can blow out tires, wrack alignments and bend suspension parts.
At Ed Savitski’s Garage in Wilkes-Barre, Savitski worked a tire machine in the back, spinning the wheel back onto its rim. He laughed and said this one wasn’t a pothole victim, but he quickly grew serious.
They don’t make tires like they used to, Savitski said. Low-profile tires and aluminum or magnesium rims are more prone to blowouts or cracking than high-walled tires on old-fashioned steel rims.
“It’s great when you live out in the West where the roads are straight,” Savitski said. “In Wilkes-Barre, you need a 4-by-4.”
Savitski admitted he hasn’t seen any bent axles or cracked rims since temperatures dipped below zero at the beginning of the month, but he indicated they might not be too far away.
Scott Savage, a technician at Savitski’s, said potholes can’t be blamed for regular wear and tear; there’s too many other things to cause that. But when he finds a car with bent suspension parts or cracked rims, he wonders what it was the driver hit.
Motorists in the United States file about 500,000 auto insurance claims each year for pothole damage, according to the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America Inc.
The corporation estimates the pothole repair industry is worth about $4.8 billion, money paid for repairs to tires, suspension and body work.
AAA Mid-Atlantic warns that hitting a crater at high speed increases the risk for vehicle damage. The travel services company offers the following advice for avoiding pothole damage:
• Watch traffic patterns. Cars that slow down or move quickly to other lanes may be a sign of major potholes or road damage ahead.
• Beware of snow, ice or water that may be concealing a deep pothole.
• Report major potholes or road damage to your state or local transportation department.
• Avoid swerving. Swerving can cause a loss of vehicle control.
• Slow down. Carefully avoid sharp impact with potholes.
• Roll through. Rolling through the pothole is better than braking rapidly.
• Inflate tires properly. Overinflated and underinflated tires increase risk of tire and wheel damage.
In Dallas Township, pothole repairs have started early, said Roadmaster Martin Barry, who did his first patching of the season back in October.
“We normally don’t have to worry about doing cold patching on our asphalt roads until mid-February,” Barry said.
Township road crews were out in the warmer weather Wednesday and Thursday filling potholes on township roads, he said. Some of the real trouble spots — like those on heavier-traveled Route 309 and the Back Mountain Memorial Highway — are PennDOT-managed.
The state’s road workers have begun tackling craters state roads throughout Luzerne County, according to PennDOT district spokesman Michael Taluto. He could not indicate when the work would be complete.
Patching on Interstate 81 in Luzerne County is to begin Wednesday and continue until each spot is tended, said Taluto.
PennDOT crews are mostly using cold patch on the roads, he said. They’ll be using hot patch when it’s available and the conditions are right, he said.
Cold patch is a costly mix of asphalt, water and soap. The extra ingredients make the asphalt workable longer so it doesn’t harden while crews travel from spot to spot.
While regular hot asphalt costs between $60 and $75 per ton, cold patch costs about $135 per ton, Kingston Municipal Administrator Paul Keating said.
Although it’s supposed to be a semi-permanent fix for potholes, Keating said cold patch doesn’t work like hot asphalt and often breaks loose.
West Side gear
The West Side Council of Governments on Thursday stowed a brand-new hot box, a portable asphalt heater paid for with remaining funds from a Local Share Account grant, in the Kingston Municipal Garage.
Road workers from member municipalities were in the garage that day to learn to use the contraption that will save the West Side thousands in asphalt expense by letting them buy more cost-effective and durable patch, Keating said.
Old road millings can be mixed with new asphalt in the device that keeps hot road patch at the ready.
“Moving forward, we think that will be a very valuable piece of equipment for all members of the COG,” Keating said.
Road crews in Kingston also were taking advantage of the warm spike.
“We actually went out this week,” said Keating. “We took advantage of the warm weather and put down 9 tons of cold patch.”
Kingston crews had identified the town’s trouble spots and also tended to all resident complaints with cold patch this week, he said.
He spoke confidently, saying crews had taken care the borough’s most egregious potholes, but he gave a foreboding prediction.
“Even though we feel we’re on top of it,” Keating said, “once another quick freeze happens, we’ll have to do it all over again.”