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Lingering cold helps A-K Valley dodge pothole season

| Monday, April 29, 2013, 10:43 a.m.
Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
With a heavy amount of truck traffic involved with building the new Allegheny Ludlum steel mill, maintenance of Brackenridge streets has been a challenge, as evidenced by this pothole at Morgan Street and First Avenue on Thursday, April 25, 2013.

Folks throughout the Alle-Kiski Valley are all too familiar with the loud thud of their car hitting a pothole this time of year. But PennDOT and Alle-Kiski Valley road officials agree that this pothole season is less severe than normal.

Experts believe that can be attributed to winter weather lingering longer than usual, which allowed less time for freeze-thaw cycles.

Potholes are created when water seeps into cracks in the road and then freezes.

When the water freezes, it expands. When it melts again, it leaves gaps where the ice used to be and weakens the road.

Cars driving over these cracks cause potholes. The process, commonly known as freeze-thaw, happens more when a harsh winter is followed by a warm spring.

According to the National Weather Service in Pittsburgh, the average temperature in January and February of the winter of 2011-12 was 34.1 degrees. That was followed by an unseasonably mild March in 2012, which an average temperature of 51.5 degrees.

This winter, January and February had an average temperature of 30.1 degrees, and March's average temperature was only 35.9.

“I believe it's because there are less freeze-thaw cycles than normal,” said Steve Kanas, public works director for Allegheny Township, of the fewer potholes his crew has seen.

Kanas said that normally his department has patched about 25 potholes by this time of the year.

“I'd say this year, we've maybe only seen about five or six,” he said. “It's a lot less than normal.

“I don't believe we've had any complaints, which is a good thing.”

Jeff Florentine, a public works foreman in West Deer, agrees.

“It hasn't been too bad at all this year,” he said.

Florentine said he couldn't quantify the number of potholes his crews usually patch in a year, but said there have been fewer than normal this year.

Allegheny Township and West Deer aren't alone in reporting a lack of potholes.

According to PennDOT spokesman Steve Cowan, there have only been 88 complaints placed to the Allegheny County Maintenance Office since the beginning of the year.

That's down from 108 complaints through the same period last year.

Likewise, Cowan said statewide PennDOT has used 335 tons of patching material during this pothole season — just about half of the 666 tons of patch needed in the winter of 2011-12.

Cowan attributes the drastic drop to a couple things.

“One is definitely weather-related,” he said. “... (T)he type of winter weather we receive can dictate the amount we have to tend to.

“The other is what type of work we're out doing. If, for example, we have planned to do crack sealing for spring time, we might not have as much patching.”

Pittsburgh Mills mall had a bunch of potholes, but they have been patched.

Jerry Crites, the mall manager, attributed the potholes to more traffic and less time to pave.

“Of course, we want to make sure our parking lots are paved for our customers,” he said.

Brackenridge an exception

While most Alle-Kiski Valley drivers haven't had to swerve around the pesky potholes, drivers in Brackenridge haven't been as lucky.

According to Brackenridge Mayor Tom Kish, some of the borough's main arteries are full of potholes, and there isn't much the borough can do.

Kish said a steady stream of ultra-heavy trucks delivering supplies to help construct the new mill at Allegheny Ludlum in Harrison causes constant potholes.

“There are dozens of them on Morgan Street and First Avenue,” he said. “We patch them and then two or three days later, the trucks pull the patch out again.

“We patch there constantly, but we can't keep up with them,” he said. “Through the years of this construction, thousands upon thousands of big trucks have traveled through Brackenridge.

“Our roads just can't handle that type of traffic.”

Kish said that he has noticed that there seems to be fewer cases of potholes this year on other roads not traveled by those construction trucks.

R.A. Monti is a freelance writer.

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