Up to six Billings street maintenance workers have been on pothole patrol in recent days, working to prevent flat tires, axle repairs and aggravation for drivers on the go.
Warm temperatures on top of a cold winter that’s dumped seven feet of snow to date have loosened the fines — particles of sand and gravel under the roadway. Bill Kemp, the city’s Street-Traffic Division superintendent, said that crews have recently seen potholes larger than two feet in circumference and about four inches deep.
Not exactly big enough to swallow a compact car, but annoying and potentially damaging nonetheless.
While fixing potholes is largely a manual operation, one piece of equipment — a truck outfitted with a machine the operator uses to place tar, gravel and cold mix directly into the pothole without leaving the cab — has helped make the process speedier and more efficient, public works officials said Thursday.
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“It’s fair to say we know each spring we will have these potholes to fix,” said Vern Heisler, Billings’ deputy public works director, adding the Street-Traffic Division has sufficient funds for filling potholes. “We know we have to plow snow, and fix potholes too. It all has to get done.”
With snow in the forecast Friday and Sunday, pothole repairs could go on hiatus for the time being.
“The one thing we fight is water,” Heisler said. “We have to dry them out in order to patch them.”
Patching potholes with cold mix is a temporary fix, Kemp said. Under dry conditions, the fix can last 6-12 months. But it's no substitute for the hot mix fix.
“Once the asphalt plants open up, that’ll be more permanent,” Kemp said. “We are waiting for that phone call” indicating that Fisher Construction and Knife River Construction are firing up their plants for the spring. “But for now, this nice weather has helped.”
Residents can dial 406-657-8250 to report a pothole they’d like to see filled. Most days produce an average of a half-dozen calls, Kemp said. While they’re out working, street maintenance crews note new potholes that have appeared and alert their colleagues working to patch potholes of the location.
Potholes seem to be equal opportunity offenders throughout Billings, Heisler said.
“They’re all over the place,” he said. “It’s warming up, and the potholes are really growing.”
Pothole crews will probably be reassigned temporarily if the forecast of snow and rain showers proves correct.
“When water and snow are on the streets, this will all come to a stop,” Kemp said. “The best chance of success is when the base of the pothole is dry, so we’ll have to wait it out at least for a little bit.”
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