A Lot Of Patch Work To Do Here

March 9, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — Like the tulips that bloom in Holland each year, the potholes have blossomed on cue throughout Grand Rapids — and in large numbers.

“We’ve had a bumper crop of potholes, to say the least,” said City Manager Kurt Kimball.

So many that City Public Works Director Pat Bush was asked to address the city’s road-crevice problem before commissioners last week, in an unscheduled agenda appearance that was televised on a cable-access channel.

“Thank you, Pat. You’re a brave man,” said Mayor George Heartwell, as Bush stood behind the speaker’s podium, adding that some roads were like “third-world highways.”

Bush said all the snow the city has received this winter — roughly 90 inches so far, with 41 of those inches falling during February — has “played severe havoc” with the streets when the temperature has risen about freezing. He said there have been several major freeze-and-thaw cycles that have harshly damaged the pavement.

Proof of that increased damage is reflected in the higher number of calls made to the city’s pothole hotline at 456-3232 this year. Bush said the city received 281 pothole sightings last year during January and February. This year, though, that number has climbed to 1,008 over the same two-month period.

“Those are only the reported potholes,” he duly noted.

Bush explained that his crews use a cold patch to fill these bunkers, which he admitted is a temporary fix. He also said his staff isn’t large enough to keep pace with the rapidity that the road surfaces are breaking up because the same employees that do the patch work also plow and salt the streets.

Bush said he can’t use gravel as fill because it “has a life expectancy of 20 minutes.”  He did say, though, that he uses a Dura Patcher, recommended to him by the Kent County Road Commission. Even though it’s 80 percent cheaper than asphalt, the material used only works on small ruts as it has an emollient base.

“With our limited resources, we’re doing the best we can with what we have,” said Bush.

City revenue from the state gasoline tax is down this winter because, with gas prices topping $3 a gallon during a tough economic period, people are driving fewer miles. Kimball said there are some dollars left in the street fund, but probably not enough to cover the work needed. So he told commissioners that he would report back to them with other possible funding sources.

Bush said the city usually acts on reported potholes within 24 hours, and normally doesn’t take any longer than 48 hours to shovel some cold patch into one. He said he couldn’t use hot asphalt until the rain and snow lets up and the temperature regularly tops 45 degrees. Bush expects it will take his department four to six weeks “to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.”

Second Ward Commissioner David LaGrand offered an “all the king’s men” suggestion as a remedy to the problem, and asked Bush if “vigilante pothole killing” would help. By that term LaGrand meant for the city to arm neighborhood associations with buckets of cold patch to fill the ruts. Bush didn’t think that was a particularly good idea.

“There is a certain amount of liability associated with doing that,” he said.

But Bush did invite LaGrand to report for a regular pothole-filling shift and promised him that he would get his own full bucket of cold patch for showing up.

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