After freeze-thaw comes pothole season
CHAMPAIGN — Winter wreaks havoc on city streets, and last week's weather was pretty extreme.
That could mean some serious potholes popping up and making for bumpy rides throughout Champaign-Urbana. It will eventually become the source of quite a bit of work for local public works departments and the state of Illinois.
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The freeze-thaw cycle that happens during the winter will put more wear and tear on the roads, but Champaign public works spokesman Kris Koester said it's a routine effort throughout the year.
Champaign filled 21,012 potholes during the last budget year, Koester said. It cost the city, on average, $6.81 per pothole. The city gets about 30 service calls per month for potholes, and public works crews find and repair the rest on their own.
"For us to have 21,000 in a year be filled, it's just sort of consistently every month," Koester said.
That being said, winter is particularly harsh, especially as temperatures fluctuate the way they have in the past week — from a low of 14 below zero last Monday to the mid-40s on Sunday. Highs and lows tend to jog between below-freezing and above-freezing, too.
Koester said asphalt pavement typically has about a 10-year life cycle before it starts to break down anyway. The freeze-thaw doesn't help — liquid water gets into the cracks, freezes, expands, pushes and grinds the material.
"When you get into temperatures like this with the warming and the cooling and the extreme cooling, then that material is expanding and contracting more," Koester said.
And then you put snow plows on the road — that creates even more wear and tear. By the time Champaign-Urbana thaws out, some roads will be pretty brittle.
"Such as the past event, temps went from -15 to 40 and from heavy snow to rain," said Urbana public works operations manager John Collins. "This type of fluctuation will have the largest effect on pothole generation."
Collins said pothole crews will be out in Urbana on Monday morning filling potholes on primary snow routes which require the most attention. That's only if they don't have a long list of service calls.
City officials often have to remind residents that, just because a road is in the city limits, it does not mean the city can necessarily fix a pothole. The state of Illinois maintains some of Champaign-Urbana's busiest routes, and pothole problems need to be referred to them.
In Champaign, state-maintained roads include:
— Springfield Avenue (Illinois 10)
— Prospect Avenue between Springfield and Marketview (U.S. 150 East)
— Neil Street (U.S. 45)
— Mattis Avenue between Springfield and Bloomington (U.S. 150 West)
— University Avenue and Church Street west of Mattis Avenue (Interstate 72)
— Bloomington Road west of Prospect (U.S. 150)
In Urbana, the state-maintained roads are University Avenue, Cunningham Avenue, and Illinois 130.
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When the cities get a pothole complaint on one of the state roads, those service calls are forwarded to the Illinois Department of Transportation. But occasionally, a pothole will be so serious that the city will do the work itself right away and work out the details with the state later.
"There have been times when we've filled them, and then we've contacted the state," Koester said. "I think one of them was the size of a car."
Protect your car from potholes
Winter puts wear and tear on the roads, but to reduce wear on your car, AAA recommends you take a few steps to minimize damage that might be caused by potholes:
— Inspect tires: Drivers should make sure tires have enough tread and are properly inflated, as they are the first cushion between the road and the car.
— Inspect suspension: Struts and shocks need to be in good condition. You should have them checked if you notice changes in handling, excessive vibration or uneven tire wear.
— Look ahead: Make a point of checking the road for potholes. An alert driver may have time to avoid them, but needs to check surrounding traffic before trying to do so.
— Slow down: Hitting a pothole at higher speeds increases the impact and potential for damage. If you can't avoid it, reduce your speed — but make sure you check the rearview mirror before any abrupt braking.
— Beware of puddles: That benign-looking puddle could be hiding a deep chasm in the road.
— Check alignment: Hitting a pothole can knock your wheels out of alignment. If your car is pulling left or right, it's time to see a mechanic.
Recognize noises or vibrations: A pothole can dislodge wheel weights, damage a tire or wheel and break suspension components. You should visit a mechanic if you notice any new or unusual noises or vibrations.