Mon Valley public works crews begin patchwork on pothole-filled roadways
It's that time of year in Southwestern Pennsylvania when public works crews spend their days patching the pockmarked roadways left as a result of late winter and early spring's seasonal cycle of freeze and thaw.
State, county and municipal workers are out in full force to repair the damages of a long, harsh winter now that forecasts are clear. Some crews will find themselves tending to potholes for a few steady weeks, while other municipal workers will use these small-scale fixes to get communities through the year with minimal road repairs.
“There's always a heavy workload in the spring with the winter beating up our roads,” Clairton public works operator Eric Fusco said. “We are catching up after a bad winter. We will do a lot of repairs in the spring and go back out sporadically in the summer.”
Clairton is one of a few local communities that is looking at major capital projects in each of its wards this summer, some of which will include expensive paving projects.
“The roads in Clairton, for a long time, haven't had the benefit of any major paving,” city manager Howard Bednar explained. “But with the way the weather changes in this region, the same potholes and cracks will appear every winter. They will just be two inches higher after you resurface a road.”
While federal Community Development Block Grant funding is applicable to paving projects, many communities are applying those monies to demolition because they can get more bang for their buck. If a community is allotted approximately $125,000 in a given year, it's more efficient to tear down a block of dilapidated homes than it is to pave a small street for $80,000 of those dollars, Bednar said.
With community development budgets operating on a July-to-June fiscal year, McKeesport's community development director A.J. Tedesco said the city expects to see a $24,000 cut in its grant.
“We eliminated paving from our 2014 community development budget draft,” Tedesco said. “But that doesn't mean the administration won't take on paving projects with money from the general fund.”
McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko said the city will be careful in deciding whether to pave.
“We will be doing a lot of patching and, basically, putting on a lot of Band-Aids,” the mayor said. “We are going to continue these small-scale repairs until we can generate enough money to do a much larger-scale paving project, which we will need to do in the very near future.”
Liberty and Port Vue officials are putting together a list of roads that will be paved in their respective boroughs this year.
“We all have roads that definitely need paved,” Liberty council president Chris Gretz said. “Our guys are out patching potholes and fixing cracks now. It's just routine maintenance, but they've been working hard. They're doing a great job so far.”
Port Vue Mayor Brien Hranics said borough roads aren't bad because crews were diligent in cold patching all winter: “Their work in the winter made things easier this spring.”
Councilwoman Pamela Myers, who chairs the borough's public works committee, said constant upkeep on Port Vue's roads with minor paving projects each year has helped to keep the task manageable.
The pothole-patching process could be simplified in coming years with joint purchasing of shared equipment through Steel Valley and Twin Rivers councils of governments.
Homestead council president Lloyd Cunningham, who arranged a demonstration of a DuraPatcher pothole-filling machine earlier this year, is pushing for a purchase because the equipment is cost- and labor-efficient.
With the winter's work of cold patching intended to be removed and replaced with hot patches of asphalt in the spring, Cunningham described that process as costly and labor intensive. The idea of replacing that work with a permanent fix could help municipal budgets and workloads across the region, he explained.
“These are permanent patches,” Cunningham said. “You're using hot asphalt all the time, and you can use it all the way down to 0 degrees. I can justify the efficiency to myself a thousand ways.”
Steel Valley COG executive director An Lewis said the DuraPatcher will be one of several topics on the table during a Wednesday meeting of municipal managers and secretaries from communities served by Steel Valley and Twin Rivers COGs.
“Just like any other shared equipment services, one of the COG's purposes is to allow municipalities to partner and share,” Lewis said. “There may be complexities in figuring out how to make it work, but if enough municipalities have an interest, we can find a way to make it happen. This isn't a machine that an individual municipality would use every day, so it is a good candidate for a sharing program.”
Bednar said he hopes a purchase plan can be made soon with grant applications and a local match.
“It's a great machine,” he said. “I told council that if the COG doesn't buy one, Clairton should.”
Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1956, or firstname.lastname@example.org.