Winter Wanes; Potholes Plague

FULTON – The worst of winter waned with the recent thaw but as streets clear of built up ice and snow they reveal a pox of potholes plaguing the city: damage wrought by winter’s icy grip.

Potholes along Route 57.
Potholes along Route 57.

“We’ve got a few that are rollers or big holes,” Sixth Ward Councilor Lawrence Macner said during a recent council meeting, “and it’s going to get worse before it gets better. The Department of Public Works is on top of it but they’re going to be popping up more and more as the weather warms up.”

Mayor Ron Woodward explained that the Department of Public Works is out daily filling potholes with cold patch, a temporary pavement fix but the only thing that is available this time of year.

“If you fill a hole, it’ll probably be good for a day if you’re lucky,” the mayor said. “Then you’ve got to fill it again. New potholes keep surfacing and they’re going to keep showing up until the frost line goes away.”

Woodward added this is a perennial problem people deal with every year and it’s everywhere, not just here.

According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers “Pothole Primer” two factors must be present for the passageway’s perennial plague: traffic and water.

Stretches of damaged pavement left by winter's wrath and constant cars.
Stretches of damaged pavement left by winter’s wrath and constant cars.

“This could almost be called the cardinal rule of pothole development,” the primer states, “because without water and traffic present at the same time, potholing simply won’t develop. Exceptions to this rule do not exist!”

Melting water from spring thaws can weaken soil under pavement; cracks in pavement can allow water to seep into the sub-base. The freeze/thaw cycle causes pavement to be pushed up and traffic traveling over the weakened pavement causes it to break away leaving the familiar road pox.

The mayor advises if you should happen to hit a pothole, you should report it.

“If they think they have damage, they should put a claim in at the clerk’s office, and it has to be in writing,” Woodward said.

“If they hit a pothole in the city of Fulton and there’s no damage, they can call the mayor’s office or the DPW Commissioner to make someone aware of it.”

Road damage on Route 3 will likely wait until  spring.
Road damage on Route 3 will likely wait until spring.

He added that a couple potholes the city is already aware of will need to wait for spring when a more permanent repair can be made.

“We just can’t be aware of every one,” the mayor said. “Call down here, tell us the location and we’ll fix it. We have a patch truck that goes around all day long.”

Woodward said there are ways a city can plan to mitigate potholes, but those methods cost money.

“The only way you can ever cure this, we were paving the streets every year,” he said. “We used CHIPS money. The problem is, if you pave the road with CHIPS it has to last 10 years. If you have to pave it before 10 years, you have to pay for it, and you can’t use CHIPS.”

The city leader said when the city paved West First Street from about Walnut Street to the city line, and almost a mile and on West Fifth from Jerome to Broadway each of those projects cost $1 million.

“What we had to do, they had clay underneath, we had to hire engineer’s, we dug the streets down four feet, and when we had them open we addressed the water and sewer lines,” Woodward said.

Those projects included putting a gravel material in so the water drains away, compacting it and then laying in a fabric that allows water to seep through but not push back into the pavement above.

“Those two streets were done in 1986, and we’ve only paved them once since then,” Woodward noted.

“A lot of these streets, like Fourth Street and others like it, really this is what needs to be done to them. If you could afford to do it, you’d save maintenance costs for the next 30 years. The problem is, it’s so expensive,” he said.

As city leaders try to keep up with the maintenance of the city’s infrastructure, Woodward reminds taxpayers that there is 63-64 miles of street in the city and every one of those streets has a sewer and waterline, then every home and business has a sewer lateral and a tap out of the water main going in.

Rollers on Sixth Street need more than just a little cold patch.
Rollers on Sixth Street need more than just a little cold patch.

Although much of the city’s water and sewer lines were installed with state of the art engineering 100 years ago, “we never expected they would last 100 years,” he said.

From a political stand point, Woodward noted that a lot of mayors don’t spend money on maintaining the water and sewer lines “because people react to what they see.”

“If you pave the street, that gets their attention. They don’t see the sewer and water lines. They don’t get mad until they don’t get water or can’t flush their toilet.”

Meanwhile, the city’s leaders continue to plan for the Fulton’s future even if the work is underground and the budget is tight.

“We always try to plan projects, the awful reality of it is, we’re in hard times. Not just us. I know the state’s financial restructuring board just brought Rochester in,” Woodward said.

He added that he has had contact with other nearby communities who are also applying for the state financial board’s help and the potential of $5 million to help make ends meet.

“The thing is, everybody is in the same boat. I don’t agree with the governor when he says we’re going to put a tax cap on them.”

Meanwhile, locally as residents wait for the bituminous mix plants to open so that more permanent repairs can be made to busy streets and highways, the city is planning a few more upgrades to its aged infrastructure.

“This year we’re scheduled on Broadway, between First Street, where the Post Office is and Route 481,” the mayor said. “We’re replacing a 100-year-old 4-inch water line with a new 8-inch ductile iron line.”

While the city has bonded for the materials, in order to save the taxpayers some money, “We’re going to do it ourselves,” he said.

As for the potholes, the mayor assures residents, “As soon as it warms up and the frost line goes away, there will be a repair and they’ll go away.”