‘Holy’ season in Portland makes for bumpy going

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PORTLAND — Pour, pound, repeat.

Be ready to do it again.

Pothole season has arrived early in Portland, and when Public Works crews aren’t clearing snow, they’re patching city streets.

“We are about a month ahead,” Keith Emery said Jan. 26 as he, Marty Tuttle and Ryan Sullivan prepared to fill a hole on the edge of Warren Avenue beneath the Maine Turnpike.

The gouged, pocked center of the road was hardly better than its edges. That was no surprise to Emery.

“This is one of the ongoing spots,” he said. “One week, it could be Congress Street; one week, it could be Marginal Way.

If Mother Nature seems more benevolent of late because of warmer temperatures and fewer snowstorms, the pleasure can be short-lived driving over city streets.

Since Sept. 1, 2017, the city has recorded 109 complaints about potholes, city spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said Monday. Lately, they arrive in multiples at the city’s Fix It! Portland site, although Grondin said 10 remained open Monday afternoon.

Closing complaints may be easier than closing holes for good, and Public Works Director Chris Branch agreed the season has been early and abundant.

“We’ve had a strong weather year, cold weather followed by warm weather,” Branch said Jan. 24. “Depending on your view, that is the best, or worst, for the creation of potholes.”

The deep freeze of early January receded, leading to days with temperatures above freezing. Melting snow and rain have inundated streets, and water seeped below road surfaces.

Once under the road, if the water freezes, it expands and wreaks havoc on the surface above.

“If you have a lot of freeze/thaw you have more potholes,” Branch said. Road surfaces near manhole covers are especially vulnerable as the seam between the surface and conduit cover can break easily.

The department’s top priority is keeping streets clear after storms, but Branch said as many as five teams can be out working on potholes.  Staffing also depends on whether they need a third person like Emery to help with traffic control.

On Jan. 26, Emery, Tuttle and Sullivan worked their way back and forth across the city in two trucks. Tuttle and Sullivan rode in the dump truck toting asphalt, Emery in the pickup with the repair orders.

Before the fix on Warren Avenue, the three had worked near Pine Tree Shopping Center on Brighton Avenue. After working on Warren Avenue, they would head for State Street, although Emery suspected those holes had already been repaired.

Priority is based on complaints; city Insurance Claims Administrator Lori Smith said the city can be held liable if it does not respond to a complaint within 24 hours. This month, 16 claims were filed against the city.

Smith and Grondin recommended the FixIt!Portland site as the most direct way to complain about potholes or other issues, as it is monitored most often. The Public Works number is 874-8493.

Crews can use heated asphalt, but Emery said heating takes all night and requires them to haul around the trailer with the heater. Cold patch is just shoveled in and tamped down.

Patchwork is a fleeting thing.

“It’s hard to patch it and make it stay,” Emery said.

Repair costs do not strain the department budget like snow removal, which are primarily driven by staff overtime hours, Branch said. The asphalt is not expensive, and the repairs are budgeted in the department’s streets and sidewalk repairs.

“It is like weeds, you cut them off and they come back,” Branch said. “Once you start patching them they come back.”

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Portland DPW workers Marty Tuttle, left, Ryan Sullivan and Keith Emery patch a pothole on Warren Avenue Jan. 26 as a truck drives by. Emery said patches in the center of the road would not likely hold well because of traffic volume.

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