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Pothole problem minimized through summer maintenance

The proliferation of potholes is being minimized this year by road maintenance programs, according to two people who oversee local street departments.

Posted on Feb. 12, 2013 at 12:00 a.m. | Updated on Feb. 12, 2013 at 6:17 p.m.

ELKHART — So you think pothole season has arrived?

Zig zagging to miss those craters?

The folks at local street departments might beg to differ.

Officials with Elkhart city, Elkhart County and Goshen street departments all said road conditions aren’t that bad right now.

“It’s much better, actually,” said Marty Morgan, street commissioner for the city of Elkhart.

“There’s some big ones here and there, but not like we’ve had — and not like we should have because of the temperature changes,” he said.

Potholes tend to proliferate following the arrival of lots of precipitation and wild temperatures swings that allow moisture to seep into cracks, freeze and then thaw.

Morgan and Denny Long, the street superintendent for the city of Goshen, both pointed to improved maintenance programs that have left roads in better condition prior to the arrival of winter weather.

The art of road repair involving tax dollars is pretty simple.

“Basically, we’re gluing the roads together. That’s what you do. You get by for a few more years until you can afford to pave them,” Long said.

The maintenance work involves two strategies. One is known as crack seal. The other is chip and seal. Crack seal is a short term solution to fixing cracks in the pavement.

Chip and seal involves the spreading of a thin layer of hot liquid asphalt across the pavement and then topping it off with small aggregate rocks that become embedded into the mix.

Work in the summertime sets the stage for fewer problems in the winter.

“They’re in better shape going into the winter than in year’s past,” Long said.

Goshen also uses a slightly more expensive cold mix to fill potholes.

That mix, Long said, is more elastic and often proves to hold up longer than the road itself. In fact, crews sometimes have to return to those repairs to add sealer around the former potholes because pavement around the repair often starts to deteriorate, he said.

One sore spot in Goshen is Kercher Road, which takes a pounding from heavy truck traffic leading into industrial parks on Goshen’s south side.

Long said that road will probably see some repairs later this year.

Morgan said the city of Elkhart has two crews that can repair potholes during the day. The night crew can also continue that work if they aren’t busy clearing snow.

Jeff Taylor, superintendent for the county highway department, described the pothole season as “typical.”

“It’s not any different than any other year,” Taylor said.

The number of crews vary from day to day and sometime range from one crew to as many as nine.

The county has crews that patrol roads looking for problems. He said they keep a closer eye on older roads compared to newer roads.

Taylor said the county doesn’t rely on complaints to gauge road conditions.

He did check with office workers who told him the number of calls concerning potholes hasn’t been any worse than normal.

Long predicted the pothole scenario could worsen this spring when heavy rains and melting snow sometimes refreeze and then thaw.

“That’s usually the worst time for us,” he said.

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