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The Road Commission for Oakland County (RCOC) would like to help motorists understand some of the philosophy behind its approach to pothole patching and reminds motorists to use caution when driving around pothole patching crews.
“It’s always important to be careful when there are work crews in the roads, such as when pothole patching crews are out,” explained RCOC Managing Director Dennis Kolar. “It’s even more critical at this time of year, when the roads might be slippery.”
Kolar noted that drivers should slow down around the crews and pay particular attention to road conditions and where the crews are. “Pothole patching is a very dangerous job. If a motorist is going too fast and hits a snowy patch or if the driver is distracted and not paying attention, the outcome could be tragic,” Kolar noted. “We want all the workers to go home safely to their families every night.”
RCOC Highway Maintenance Director Darryl Heid also reminded motorists that pothole crews may not be patching all the holes when they are out at this time of year. In the winter, the agency’s patch crews are often trying to patch the worst holes (sometimes referred to as “wheel breakers”) as quickly as possible.
“Because we’re focusing first on getting the wheel breakers as quickly as we can, our crews will sometimes skip the smaller holes,” Heid explained. “We’re doing this so that we can get around the entire system as quickly as possible to get the most serious potholes filled. If we took the time to patch all the smaller holes at the same time during these efforts, we would never make it around to all the wheel breakers.”
Heid noted once crews have made it around the main road system to get the worst holes, they will come back to “tighten up” the system by patching the smaller holes. He added safety dictates they will move into subdivisions in townships only after crews are done patching all the main roads, which carry the most traffic moving at the highest speeds.
Additionally, the pothole patching material available during the winter and early spring, while the best material available during those times, is not as durable as the “hot mix” material that becomes available later in the spring.
“We use what is called ‘cold patch’ material in the winter,” Heid said. “This is material that is specially designed to remain flexible in cold weather and that can be used in both cold temperatures and wet conditions. We use ‘hot patchers’ to heat the material, so it is more malleable and therefore fills in the potholes more completely.
“However,” Heid continued, “the cold patch simply does not last as long as the ‘hot patch’.” Hot patch is manufactured by asphalt companies. However, the asphalt companies close their plants every year in about November and do not open them until typically mid-April, so hot patch is only available in the spring, summer and fall.
“As soon as the hot patch becomes available, we switch to that material. The hot patch will last much longer and provide smoother patches,” Heid said. “One of the challenges of cold patch is that, in order to be used in the winter, it must remain malleable at all times. That means it never fully hardens, even after being placed in holes. While this property is necessary to for the material to be used during cold weather, it also reduces the longevity of the patch.
Another question people often ask about pothole patching, Heid said, is why crew members don’t spend more time tamping down the patch material. “We do not have the luxury of having the time to devote to each individual pothole,” he stated.
“We have a large road system that is in fairly poor condition due to decades of underfunding, and there are many potholes. The extra time we spend at one minor pothole could prevent us from getting to the next wheel breaker. So, the employees give the patch a quick tamp and move on. The follow trucks do their best to roll over the patches with their tires, which applies a lot more pressure than the employee can with a shovel.
To report a pothole, call the Road Commission’s Department of Customer Services toll free at 877-858-4804. Potholes can also be reported online via RCOC’s Web site, www.rcocweb.org (click on “Report an Issue”).