Potholes plague pockets

The continuous cold and snowfall this winter have been hitting local cities in the pocketbook as they work to keep the snow off of the roads and continuously fill potholes that can cause thousands of dollars of damage to cars and trucks.

“This has been, without a doubt, the worst winter we’ve experienced in the 15 years that I’ve been mayor,” Girard Mayor James Melfi said.

“We’ve had potholes everywhere,” Melfi said. “We especially had a lot of potholes on (U.S.) Route 422, north of Churchill. It is hard to keep up.”

Warren Mayor Doug Franklin called this winter more challenging than those in the last several years.

To keep up with the number of potholes that have been forming around the city, Franklin, in recent weeks, has used employees from the city’s water department to help operation department workers to fill holes and level streets.

“We’ve had so many that I’ve had crews filling the potholes on Saturday just to keep up,” he said. “While we will have crews out removing snow anytime there is snowfall, normally we only have workers out filling potholes during on weekdays during regular business hours.”

Both communities are using a cold patch, which is a mixture of ultra pliable mix of stone and asphalt binder that is used primary to patch potholes in cold weather.

“We’re using cold patch to fill the holes as we discover them, but it is not a permanent solution,” Melfi said. “We are having so many freezes and thaws that the patches are popping out and must be replaced.”

In the spring, when the hot mix asphalt mills open, the cities will replace the cold mix filling with hot asphalt that will bond to the roads.

Warren, on average, uses just less than 300 tons of cold patch in a winter season.

“We’ve already used more than 300 tons of cold patch,” Franklin said. “We’ve ordered another 40 tons of cold patch.”

Franklin emphasized the community has been fortunate because a recent agreement between the county engineer’s office has significantly reduced the cost of cold patch.

“We were previously paying $110 per ton for cold patch,” Franklin said. “We now are getting cold patch for about $71 per ton. We started realizing these savings last year.”

Franklin indicated there have been discussions about increased shared services between the city and county.

Girard also is purchasing its cold patch from the county engineer’s office.

Both communities have seen an increase in water main breaks due to the cold weather.

In Warren, the city’s water department has had to repair about 50 water main breaks in the first two months.

“We had 120 water breaks last year, most of which happened between January to April of 2013,” Bob Davis, director of the city’s water department said. “We are remaining optimistic the number of main breaks will be less than 120 in 2014.”

Water main breaks generally slow down after April, Davis continued.

Melfi said the number of water main breaks have been piling up in his city.

Girard had about 20 water main breaks in the first two months of 2014, which is about 30 percent greater than the average year.

Melfi said they have been difficult and more expensive to to deal with because of the heavy snow and ice on the ground, which make them harder to find and locate.

Motorists who experience damage to their vehicles and believe it was caused by road conditions or negligence by the city should turn in the information to City Hall officials, Melfi said.

“We will turn the information over to our insurance company, which will do the investigation and determine who is the blame and what compensation should be awarded,” he said.

Warren’s law department does the investigation on damage claims. Claims are investigated by a risk manager in the city’s law department, who determines whether the city has been grossly negligent.

Individuals turning in claims must file detailed reports of where and when the driver hit the potholes and explanations of what happened at the scene. They must turn in bills or receipts for damages and / or injuries, along with a copy of the declaration page of the driver’s insurance policy.

In order for the city to be found at fault, it must be determined it was grossly negligent – failing to repair a known pothole in a “reasonable amount of time.”

Hicks pointed out that the standards for a municipality to be considered grossly negligent are higher than for other parties. The risk manager contacts city department heads to see if there was any knowledge of the pothole, and if so, whether it was repaired in the reasonable amount of time.

Franklin said the city has welcomed calls from residents about potholes, because it has helped it identify where they are located.