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On the road less graveled

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Temp swings batter county Byways

John O. Marlowe

CRAWFORDSVILLE – The winter of 2018-19 won’t be remembered for much beyond two weeks of extremely cold weather, but the effects on your car may linger longer in your memory.

Temperature fluctuations of up to 20-plus degrees, sometimes overnight, have whipsawed Montgomery County byways into gauntlets of perilous travel, as pavement on area streets and roads succumb to the weather extremes.

“When you start the week at 40 degrees, drop to -40 degrees on Wednesday, then hit 40 degrees again on Saturday, we really don’t stand much of a chance,” said Crawfordsville Street Commissioner Scott Hesler, recalling the week of the polar vortex, January 30.

Hesler oversees six full-time pothole patchers, who are waging war against an army of potholes popping up daily.

“It’s not people’s imagination,” said Hesler. “It’s definitely a bigger problem this year. The freeze and thaw has really played havoc. But it’s not picking on any one of us. All cities have been hit hard.”

In spite of the high demand, Hesler believes there is plenty of asphalt available to handle widespread material need. “We are using cold-patch to fill potholes now, adding a chemical adhesive to improve the stickiness. Then we load it into our hot-boxes, which makes it a little more pliable, and packs a little better.

“When the weather improves, we’ll go after them with a hot-patch solution.”

Hesler has divided the city into two East-West sectors in an effort to monitor the need more efficiently. Then he sends out double crews in each, everyday weather allows work.

“I think we are doing a really decent job on potholes,” said Hesler, who suggests most serious cavities are being filled within 24 hours of receiving notification.

Although potholes will continue to form, the greatest disadvantages occur on streets where the surface is deteriorating entirely. Soft spots form under high use, and generally the surface softens into gravel under the constant churning of the traffic.

“Unfortunately, that’s not anything we can just add material to. We’ll have to get back in there and strip the surface first, then add new pavement,” explained Hesler. “Right now we need the weather to cooperate with us.”

The weather is also the issue for Jeremy Phillips. The Montgomery County Highway Director says until the weather breaks, his crews are just in defense mode.

“At this point it’s reactionary versus proactively tackling the problem,” said Phillips. “If we can get beyond the frost, and have the pavement dry up some, I’ll add some crews, and start working 10-hour shifts.

“We worked 10-hour shifts three days last week,” he added.

Phillips, who oversees 844 miles of Montgomery County roads, also agrees this year’s conditions have been the worst in years. “The biggest problem was that we never got a solid freeze. These ups and downs are just horrible on roads.”

Road conditions greatly depend on traffic, too, Phillips adds.

“I’m sure there are some guys who aren’t complying with the Frost/Freeze Law, too.”

Montgomery County has already posted notice that the local Frost/Freeze Law is in effect, January 31 through April 15, and will be vigorously enforced because of the severe risk to the roadways.

The law limits gross weight to eight tons on all county roads. There is a provision, if weather permits, to haul heavier loads. However, permission from the Montgomery County Highway Department must be granted for each occurrence, prior to travel, in order to lift the restriction.

Each highway chief cites the benefit of the public’s attention in helping them stay aware of dangerous conditions caused by deteriorating roads.

“We are checking daily,” said Commissioner Hesler. “We are running every main street first, then we run streets in the neighborhoods, to assess the risks to the public.”

Phillips will even sometimes employ social media to help in the battle. “I look to see what people are saying on some of the sites, and then we’ll go out there, and evaluate the problem for ourselves.

“It is still better to contact us directly,” suggests the Director.

With spring approaching, both Phillips and Hesler finally see light at the end of the tunnel. Phillips adds, “We will be making cold mix, and get into actual paving in a couple of weeks.

“But it all depends on Mother Nature. We can’t make promises.”


Crawfordsville Street and Sanitation Department


Montgomery County Highway Department