ELYRIA — With a gently used hot box and tons of cold patch, Elyria workers are tackling this year’s scourge of potholes the only way they know how: one hole at a time.
Scott Payne, Elyria’s Street Department superintendent, said the plowing and patching cycle of this winter has taken on a life of its own, with city employees switching up their workload as the weather changes.
“We could make some progress if the snow would just stop,” Payne said. “We are pothole filling one day and snow plowing the next. We are using a lot of cold patch.”
Cold patch is soft and sticky when it is applied, but hardens enough to somewhat smooth a pothole-pocked road. It’s similar to traditional asphalt, but it is only a temporary fix.
Payne said the freeze and thaw cycle of winter won’t allow crews to use traditional asphalt, which must be kept warm and smoothed with a larger roller to adhere to the ground.
“It’s the best we can use in the winter until the asphalt plants reopen for the spring — which is usually around mid-April — and begin producing asphalt,” Payne said. “That’s what crews are doing right now.”
The gently used hot box the city picked up several months ago was the kind of buy that was both thrifty and practical and is paying for itself exponentially. Safety Service Director Mary Siwierka said it came by way of an auction of city equipment in Medina. It was purchased for $1,600 in good condition and brand new would have cost the city $25,000.
It has allowed the city — weather permitting, of course — to send two crews out daily to patch potholes.
Tuesday, drivers would have noticed Gulf Road was noticeably less cavernous. It was cold patched earlier in the day.
Payne said crews, using tips from fellow city employees and residents who call after banging their cars one time too many, use a system of first patching main arteries and next branching into residential neighborhoods. When it snows, all of that is put on hold and employees are dispatched to plow instead.
Lori Garcia, Lorain’s street superintendent, said pothole patching in the city has improved with the purchase of a DuraPatcher, a machine that sprays an emulsion/aggregate mix rather than asphalt, making repairs last longer.
Lorain received the Dura Patcher, which costs about $60,000 and includes an emulsion tank, in August. Garcia said the DuraPatcher is used only when the temperature is 25 degrees or above.
Workers do cold patches when it’s below 25. Garcia said workers have patched roughly 50 potholes per week around Lorain since the winter began, and the DuraPatcher has been used about 10 times.
And, if you think the potholes seem worse this year, you would be right. It’s hard to track potholes in Elyria — a city of 20.2 square miles with 409 miles of highway, 187 miles of two-lane roads and 518 streets — but the city can track the amount of cold patch it purchases and uses.
Siwierka said the product is being used in record amounts.
In 2012, from January through mid-April, the city purchased and used 40 tons of cold patch. This year, the city has purchased 80 tons — some five tractor-trailers full — of the road patching material.
With at least one month more of weather too cold to use hot asphalt, Payne said he’s sure additional cold patch will be needed. In addition to filling potholes, is also is put down by water distribution workers after they repair water main breaks.
Elyria also has dealt with a record number of water main breaks — more than 70 in the first two months of the year, or twice as many as during the same time frame in 2013.
Reporter Evan Goodenow contributed to this story.