Monday, October 20, 2014

Road Repairs? Or Just Filling Holes?

At 7:30 this morning, my outdoor thermometer registered 39 F. It didn't quite get down to freezing last night and I'm glad, because I still have hopes of harvesting a jar full of fennel seeds before the frost gets them. But it was a reminder that pretty soon, we'll have occasional overnight freezes, then the weekly ones, then nightly through most of the winter.

If you click on this link, you can view the average climate data for Norristown. From November to March, our average low temperatures are below freezing, but in all those months, our average highs are well above freezing--41 F and higher. We usually only have about 2 weeks in January that the daytime highs are likely to be below 32 F. That means for the better part of 5 months of our year, we have daily freezing, thawing and refreezing every single day.

We also have a fairly notable annual precipitation-around 41 inches (about up to my armpits--a lot of water). This makes our part of the U.S. kind of unique. South of here they don't get as many overnight freezes. To the north, they get whole months without a thaw. To the west, for instance in Moab, Utah, you'll find daily freezes and thaws half the year, but they only get 9 inches of precipitation.

A few of you may have noticed road crews out this week, filling potholes leftover from last winter. These were the same holes that were filled last May, plus a few extra here and there (like West Oak Street, FINALLY). Now, if the macadam that was originally put in those potholes in May got knocked apart during the summer, how long will that filling last now that our overnight freezes are poised to begin?

Moreover, in the areas that I think of as pothole nurseries--those lumpy-bumpy sections of street covered with a spider-web patterns of cracks--I don't see any work being done at all. Drive the block of Swede alongside the library. Go up Elm from Markley to Stanbridge. There are sections of road like this all over town, some of them major arteries to our main streets. How do they get that way? All that precip seeped into the cracks last winter, froze, thawed, froze, etc. for months, cracking all the underlying road surface. It's already difficult to drive on. By December, we're likely to have many more potholes in town, and by then, it's too cold to do any real work on them.

We talk a lot in this town about attracting visitors to our restaurants and attractions. Our community image is projected as much through road surfaces as through the facades of our buildings and the neatness of our lawns and gardens--maybe more so. For every driver going through Norristown--they might be in too much of a hurry or too concerned with their own problems to notice our architecture, but they'll have their eyes on the road (or at least, they SHOULD). What good is making our buildings look amazing if the roads are bumpy and unkempt and hazardous?

When you bring up the subject of road repair to government officials in Norristown lately, you hear how bad last winter was. I've lived here 58 years--we've had many, many winters that were far worse. Yet the worst streets were always repaired in the spring--not just the potholes, but all the rough, bumpy places, too. They even filled the potholes in my alley, every year. Until lately. We had a couple milder winters, then this year, and it's like everyone at Municipal Hall has forgotten what our climate's like when it's normal. Nickel-and-diming repairs now is going to cost us a fortune in the future. It's like patching and repatching a bad roof. Sooner or later you'll have to rebuild the whole thing from the wood up. Roads are the same way. Keep up their maintenance every year and they won't cost nearly so much in the long run.

Last week in the live chat with Crandall Jones, one resident asked if there was an ongoing plan for road maintenance. The answer was "There is a great deal of reprogramming going on right now in terms of how we handle pothole repair. Council has been very focused on this issue and we are working to improve the process." You read that and think, political answer that says nothing, right? Really, it says a lot. "Pothole repair" instead of "road maintenance." It tells me that the mindset is to fill potholes as they occur, instead of assessing the roads and properly repaving where needed on an annual basis. Treating the symptom instead of the disease.

1 comment:

  1. Pothole repair is a minimal expense to the municipality. Planning and effecting a street resurfacing, require input to the annual budget, knowledge of the availability of funding and a consistent policy of planning and anticipation.