CHAMPAIGN — As winter breaks, that usually means public works crews are busy patching potholes — but this year, a mild winter helped pothole crews keep the cracks relatively under control.
City workers got an early start on streets that were not as bad this year. They say complaints are fewer than during a typical spring, but there's still plenty of work to be done.
"There's not so many big holes this year," said Champaign public works employee Matt Jones. "The ones that you drive by and there's 14 hubcaps laying by."
Rough winters wreak havoc on city streets. Frost and moisture get underneath the pavement, and as it freezes and thaws, the asphalt contracts and expands with it. What drivers end up with are cracks in the pavement that get bigger as cars, buses and trucks hammer them a little bit more.
Jones' two-man crew can fill a few hundred potholes per day and go through as much as four tons of patching material.
Sometimes it's a losing battle.
"We're back here every two weeks filling the same holes," Jones said from North Market Street.
Champaign crews try to get to citizen complaints within two working days of receiving them. Last year, they were inundated.
"We leave there and know it's a temporary fix," Steven Crays said. "That's the worst part."
Officials are hoping a new piece of equipment might make it a bit easier. A "spray patcher" with a front-mounted boom would allow a worker to fill potholes with controls from the seat of a truck, rather than getting out with a shovel and walking into the middle of the street.
Filling potholes is an annual battle everywhere, and sometimes it takes more than a worker with a shovel. Last week, a resident complained about a segment of Queens Way in the Dobbins Downs neighborhood, but when a crew arrived, it was clear it would take more than some temporary patching to fix.
Jones said the department had to ask for an "emergency request" to complete a more extensive repair to the concrete.
But this year's mild winter was generally easier on the streets, and the early spring helped crews get out more quickly than normal.
"The weather's been pretty nice, and we've already been able to systematically go through town and get everything that we could," said John Collins, an operations supervisor with Urbana public works. If Champaign-Urbana had even a normal winter, he added, pothole crews would be "extremely busy" right now.
Most of the problems are in older residential neighborhoods, he said. Even though the warmer weather has helped, there's still plenty of work to be done.
"I'll never be able to tell you we don't have any potholes in town," Collins said.