Harford, municipal crews keep busy filling potholes

Public works personnel in Harford County and its three municipalities know all too well what many motorists feel every time they hit the streets – it's pothole season, and not a particularly good one.

"Probably worse than any other year, potholes are popping up everywhere," Matt Lapinsky, Aberdeen's director of public works, reported during Monday night's city council meeting. "The backlog is enormous, and it's growing.

In Aberdeen and elsewhere, most agree that the area's roads are crumbling, neither completely nor disastrously, but certainly annoyingly and noticeably.

"It doesn't seem like there's a highway anywhere in our area that's holding up," Lapinsky said.

Those working to stay ahead of the onslaught wrought by the seasonal freezing and thawing that takes its toll on the roadways are upbeat.

"I think at this time we've pretty much managed to keep up with all of them," Larry Parks, Havre de Grace's public works director, said Wednesday.

Parks said public works crews patch the holes on city streets about three times a week; they have even had to re-patch some holes.

He said workers use material known as a "cold patch" to fill the hole, which is designed to hold until warmer weather arrives and crews can permanently seal the hole with hot asphalt.

Parks said the changing winter weather makes it difficult to put down a hot patch and ensure it stays in place.

"You might still have freeze and thaw action that would work it out of the hole," he said of the winter weather.

Parks said the cold mix holds until the weather warms; once that occurs, workers will cut out sections of the street and "roll in some hot mix."

He noted that local asphalt plants do not typically operate during the winter months and do not have any hot asphalt available. Parks said plant operators spend the time recalibrating their machines to ensure they comply with state regulations.

Parks encouraged residents who spot potholes to call city hall, 410-939-1800, during the day to report it. Residents can call the police department, 410-939-2121, after hours or on weekends.

Aberdeen officials also want city residents to report potholes. Lapinsky encouraged people to call 410-272-1414 to make sure the city is aware of all the street repairs needed.

City Councilman Bruce Garner made his report in person during Monday night's meeting.

"Route 40 and Bel Air Avenue, how do we get that taken care of," Garner asked the DPW director. "It's terrible coming off Route 40."

That's the other element to road repair and maintenance – the State Highway Administration has more than its fair share of roads to take care of in Harford County.

"We've been calling them in as soon as we get them, too," Lapinsky said about informing the SHA of potholes on state maintained roads in Aberdeen.

Harford County public works crews are busy, too, filling potholes on county roads.

Potholes have been found throughout the county, Kenny Gemmill, chief of highways maintenance for the DPW, stated through county government spokeswoman Sherrie Johnson.

"Some are bad and most are average in depth," he stated via e-mail Wednesday.

Gemmill said highway crews are using the cold mix to patch the holes, and the cost "varies depending on how many employees, equipment, etc. are utilized for the job site."

Randy Robertson, public works director for Bel Air, stated via e-mail Wednesday that potholes on town streets "have not been any worse than the rest of the county." 

"From my observation the town may have had less than elsewhere," he wrote.

Robertson said potholes occur when water enters pavement through cracks and the water expands when it freezes.

He wrote that the expanded frozen water "deteriorates the asphalt and the traffic passing over the area will dislodge the deteriorated asphalt and create a pothole."

The holes that crews are finding are sealed with a cold patch and later with "hot-mix asphalt" as the weather gets warmer.

Robertson said town crews use "crack sealing" to cover cracks in the road each year to mitigate the pothole issue.

"The process uses a heat applied polymer/bituminous liquid that is injected onto the crack and creates a waterproof seal," he explained.

Robertson said public works officials set aside $2,000 in their budget for the cold patch; it costs $50 a bag.

"I am sure we will use most of what we have purchased due to the severity of the cold weather this winter," he wrote.

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