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March 09. 2014 9:51PM

Potholes expected to plague NH drivers until weather warms


A large pothole lurks at the corner of Maple and Bridge streets in Manchester. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)


A car passes as the Manchester Highway Department repairs potholes on Gold Street last Thursday in Manchester. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)

As she moves forward, Raymond resident Carlene Kirkpatrick must make split-second decisions.

Move around an obstruction? To the right, where the surface is uncertain? Or to the left, where greater danger lurks.

Or perhaps straddle it? Or stop and take it slowly?

She's not following Olympian Hannah Kearney down a mogul ski slope. Kirkpatrick is driving her Chevrolet hatchback down Langford Road in Candia.

"You can't even go 10 miles an hour," Kirkpatrick said. "Potholes, frost heaves. If you go too fast it will mess your car up."

Just like human bodies, city streets and rural roads are suffering from frostbite and hypothermia in this overload of winter. Frost has plunged deep into roadbeds, buckling and heaving pavement into jagged waves of blacktop.

And water has seeped into cracks and frozen, busting up paved surfaces and opening up potholes all too happy to lure a tire into its depths.

And that can mean a trip to the repair shop."Mostly, it's a lot of rim damage," said Gregg Walker, service manager at Betley Chevrolet in Derry. "Some of the newer rims, they're light-weight metal. It doesn't take much to damage it."

Walker said pothole-damaged cars seemed to start showing up earlier this year.

"You hit a pothole at 5 miles an hour, the tire will absorb it. If you're going 30 miles an hour and hit some of the potholes we have in Manchester, I can definitely see breaking a ball joint or control arm," said Brian Nutting, head technician at WildCards Automotive in Manchester.Road agents and public works directors say they're trying to patch potholes, but there is little they can do about frost heaves and unsettled street surfaces.

"The entire town's a mess," said Michael Oleson, the road agent in Chester. "These are old roads. The frost is so bad this year, they've buckled."

Last week, he had a couple of crews on the mile-long East Derry Road. He expected they would put about six tons of cold patch, at $100 a ton, on potholes. The weather's been so cold that workers have had to use blow torches at times to heat the patch, he said.

In Manchester, Public Works Director Kevin Sheppard said two trucks have hot boxes, which heat four tons of asphalt apiece. The hot patch allows for a better seal. Each day, they travel to Dracut, Mass., to pick up a load of hot asphalt. Some days, they make a second run.

Sheppard said the hot patch bonds better, but can still come loose. The city has a pothole reporting page on its website. Sheppard said the city will repair most potholes within 24 hours of receiving a report.

Bike Manchester, a bicycle advocacy group, has started its own campaign to report potholes.

"Between the cold, the snow and the ice, winter bicycling can sometimes be a challenge. Poor road conditions can make it treacherous," said Timm Huffman, who commutes via bicycle to his job in the Millyard. He said he can't remember worse winter road conditions.

As the warmer temperatures of March combine with cold nights, that will mean even more opportunity for the freeze-and-thaw cycle to damage roadways. To Oleson, the ideal weather for this month would be hot temperatures for an extended period, with no rain.

But he's not expecting that. Within a couple weeks, he'll put up signs prohibiting heavy trucks from the town roads.

"Bottom line, until we start getting into warmer temperatures," Sheppard said, "we'll continue to have this problem."

mhayward@unionleader.com


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