City endures potholes and looks forward to road repaving
After yet another icy winter has dug its patchworks of potholes, the city will soon get started on repaving city streets. But not before the annual battle with the axle-endangering craters is over.
"We had the worst winter in quite some time, so it really took a toll on our roads," said city project manager Anthony Carolluzzi.
The problem of filling potholes is that they don't stay filled.
In winter, only "cold patch" can be used to fill them, and it tends to break free in short order, especially when exposed to the region's notorious freeze-thaw cycle of weather. "Hot patch" adheres better, but it has to be hot when it's applied as pavement. It's made of asphalt -- more accurately called asphalt compound -- which is a mixture of heavy petroleum, sand and gravel, and isn't usually available in winter, given that it's hard to keep it hot enough in a truck.
Stamford has a plan to rig its trucks with "hotboxes" so it can fill potholes with proper asphalt during the colder months. They have not been used this season.
"As far as I know, it's still cold patch," said Carolluzzi. "I don't like using it -- I don't recommend it."
One of the state's biggest suppliers of asphalt is Torrington-based O&G Industries, which has nine asphalt plants in Connecticut and is one of the largest suppliers of paving materials in New England.
"Our plants along the shoreline will be opening March 30, with the plants farther north opening after that as the weather warms up," O&G's Brad Oneglia said. "With hot-mix asphalt, it becomes un-compactable when it cools down, and there are specifications that must be followed for its minimum temperature when it's applied as a paving material."
He said most asphalt companies use the wintertime to repair and refurbish their plants.
"There are more vehicles on the road now than at any other time in history, and they are heavier vehicles," he said. "And combined with our freeze-thaw cycles in Connecticut, our streets have to take a lot of punishment. Plus, most of our roads are decades old at this point."
So long as cold patch is the only option, potholes will be a fact of life. Mayor David Martin has made inroads with motorists, crowdsourcing the search for potholes in March and September 2014 and urging residents to call in reports of damaged roads, shooting for repair within 10 working days.
The city maintains an online portal where residents may report potholes, or they can call (203) 977-4140. Last year, it fielded nearly 2,000 complaints about potholes.
The state The DOT's web form received nearly 400 e-mails in 24 hours this week, "the most that it's been used,'' Nursick said. "But about 30 to 40 percent of those are about locally-controlled roads, so we get back to them and ask them to notify their town directly.''
Drivers have a better change of getting potholes they report filled than being reimbursed for damage caused by them. Of the 124 claims for damage Stamford received after the winter of 2013-2014, it paid out to six motorists.
If the damage is incurred on a state-maintained road, your chance of getting reimbursed by the state is next to impossible, Nursick said. "The standard is `reckless negligence' and it's an extremely high bar," he said. "Potholes are random and a normal fact of life in New England."
Dirvers would have to prove that the state knew about a pothole and for some reason we refused to fix it, he said. "And if you are successful in your claim, the money comes from other taxpayers, including yourself," he said.
There are ways to avoid potholes safely, said Fran Mayko, spokeswoman for the AAA of Southern New England. Among her tips: slow down and don't tailgate, so you'll have more time to react to broken pavement.
The most permanent solution to the problem is to repave the damaged roads, though, and Stamford plans to start that soon. Every year the city includes repaving in its capital budget and makes a new list of roads to resurface by priority, focusing on streets that need it the most or that see the most daily traffic.
Last spring city engineers asked for $5 million for repaving to get them through June of this year. The mayor's office and the city's legislative boards cut that figure to $3 million.
But extra appropriations for paving projects are perennial affairs in Stamford, according to Board of Representatives minutes, so $3 million will likely not remain the bottom line. In May 2014, the boards approved an extra $1.9 million over what they had allotted the previous spring.
If city engineers did have the full $5 million to work with, they could get to about 12 miles of city roads, according to Carolluzzi.