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Pothole complaints drop in Allegheny County

| Thursday, April 4, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
John Zacchia (left) and Michael LaValley of the Allegheny County Public Works Department fill potholes on Tuesday, April 2, 2013, along Ice Plant Road in North Versailles.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
John Zacchia of the Allegheny County Public Works Department fills potholes along Ice Plant Road on Tuesday, April 2, 2013, in North Versailles.

Steve Johnson wants your pothole complaints.

“If people see potholes, we need them to say something so we can fix them as soon as possible,” said Johnson, Allegheny County's public works director.

This year, however, phones in Johnson's office and in other public works departments across the area haven't been ringing off the hook.

Mansour Solaimanian, director of Penn State University's Northeast Center of Excellence for Pavement Technology, said weather conditions and improved road materials and construction could be behind the decline in potholes.

Johnson's office received 59 calls about problem potholes this winter, up five from the previous winter, which was one of the mildest in memory. The number of calls surpassed 100 in each of the previous two winters. County road crews hunt for potholes that haven't been reported.

“This year's winter was probably easier on the roads because we didn't have a real hard freeze followed by a thaw,” Johnson said.

Pittsburgh's average temperature from December to March was 33.7 degrees, slightly above normal, according to the National Weather Service in Moon. Temperatures averaged about 29 degrees in February, the winter's coldest month, but remained below freezing on just nine of its 28 days.

Johnson said the county wants to make it easier for people to gripe about the more than 400 miles of roads it maintains. People now call a 10-digit number — 412-350-2513 — to report complaints, but public works is considering a shorter one like Pittsburgh's 311 complaint line.

PennDOT — which fields complaints through its hotline at 800-349-7623 — used about 315 tons of asphalt to patch potholes on roads it maintains in Allegheny County from October through March, down from 434 tons in the same period a year ago, according to spokesman Jim Struzzi.

The material that agencies use on pot holes during winter months is called “cold patch,” and its a temporary fix that crews dump into the hole, then tamp into place. In the spring and summer, crews cut out pothole-ridden areas of road and replace them with hot asphalt.

Struzzi said the numbers might be “misleading,” adding that, “Our crews have had to do winter maintenance almost every single day,” leaving less time to fix potholes.

National Weather Service records show Pittsburgh received at least a trace amount of precipitation on 100 of 121 days from December to March, up from 77 days in the same four months a year ago.

John Scott, the public works director in Moon, said his office received about 15 pothole complaints this year, about half the normal total.

Scott attributed the drop to new, more expensive asphalt the township is using.

“It holds up better” than previously used materials, he said.

West Mifflin Manager Brian Kamauf said the borough fielded about as many complaints through the winter and early spring as it normally does, though calls picked up later than normal because of the extended winter.

Most recently, Mother Nature dumped about 5 inches of snow on the region on March 25 and then roughly an inch more on each of the two days after that, National Weather Service records show.

AAA urged motorists to be on guard in the weeks ahead.

“While many motorists' cars have made it through the winter storm season unscathed, they could still fall victim to a pothole left in its aftermath,” said Steve Popovich, managing director of automotive services for AAA's East Central region, which includes Pittsburgh.

AAA said it responded to 840 flat-tire calls from March 20-31, down from 1,028 during the same period a year ago. They include, but aren't limited to, flat tires caused by potholes.

Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or tfontaine@tribweb.com.

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