This winter is the hardest on roads that many area road supervisors can remember.

When they're not plowing the white stuff out of the way or rationing dwindling salt supplies, the Portage County pothole patrol is looking to fill craters marring the roadways.

Scheduling days between cold spells to patch up the holes is the biggest problem confronting Aurora's service department, according to Service Director John Trew.

"There have been few days where it has not been snowing and temperatures are warm enough to have the [patch] material not frozen and appropriate to use," he said.

Meanwhile, Anthony Zumbo of the Portage County engineer's office said crews are busy filling potholes whenever they're not plowing. "Anything you put there just pops out," he explained.

"This is the worst season we've had in 10 years or more," Zumbo said. "The changes we've had in temperatures have just been extreme. It's gone from 50 to minus 10."

He said motorists should slow down if they can't tell if a hole is minor or deep enough to cause damage to their tires or suspension system.

Kent and Ravenna have partnered on a hot patch machine, which allows crews to make their own hot patch by recycling ground asphalt.

BUT GERALD Shanley, Kent's central maintenance supervisor, said the machine works only when the temperature is consistently around 25 to 30 degrees. In really cold temperatures, it isn't able to keep the mix hot enough.

That leaves crews with no option other than cold patch, a temporary fix. At $100 per ton, it's also a costly one. "We fill the holes in the morning, and the material is out by afternoon," Shanley said.

Kent is putting up signs to warn motorists of rough roads, and encouraging people to be careful.

Ravenna City Engineer Bob Finney said potholes arise out of three conditions -- freezing, heaving and plowing.

During a typical winter, the ground freezes about 8 to 12 inches deep. But this year, excavators say the ground is frozen as much as 24 inches deep.

And when there's a partial thaw, water seeps into a crack in the road. A subsequent freezing cycle causes the road to heave, and that makes it easier for a road to be clipped by snowplows.

It can take months for the ground to thaw completely, and the deeply frozen ground also makes the area more vulnerable to flooding.

"When it rains and the ground isn't thawed yet, there's no place for the rain to go," Finney said.

Ravenna won't be able to tell until April which of its roads may have moved up on its paving list because of the potholes.

Advocate editor Ken Lah-mers contributed to this story.


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