Baltimore County Now
Chief, Bureau of Highways
From a road-maintenance perspective – and as Chief of the Bureau of Highways that’s my default perspective – March is not the month of endless TV basketball. Nor is it an opportunity for everyone to be an ersatz Irishman. It is (and rightfully should be) Pothole Month. It’s the time of the year when frozen roads begin to thaw and come apart. Axel-breaking cavities materialize out of nowhere. Fissures form. And an already irritable driving public, fed up with snow and cold, faces an obstacle course of holes and black-water chasms every morning behind the wheel. March is the month to fill those holes and bring order to the world.
The figures are not in yet, but Baltimore County road crews have probably filled twenty thousand potholes this month. Pothole professionals (and let’s give them their due) from eleven Baltimore County shops have been working every weekday – each shop filling about one hundred holes.
Their job is often dubbed a throw-and-go operation. They shovel a cold patch mix into the hole, filling it just above surface level (to allow for compaction) and then vanish. At the end of winter (early March) they begin the operation with cold patch and then move on to more durable hot mix as it becomes available with the onset of spring.
Pothole patching is a very big job. It varies from year to year. Almost seventy thousand holes were filled in 2001 and less than forty thousand in 2012, a relatively mild winter. I suspect that this winter will be closer to the top than the bottom. That, at least, is what March portends.
Bureau of Highways, Department of Public Works
We’re really getting our share of snow this year with 17 official storms so far, (from Deon to Hercules to Pax to Titan!) – and we got our share of potholes too! The intermittent snow-melt, combined with freezing temperatures, damaged road surfaces and caused traffic headaches across the County. And Baltimore County’s Department of Public Works (Bureau of Highways) has been, is, and will be prepared to tackle the problem. In fact, Crews from eleven highway shops work throughout the year filling potholes. We’ve got equipment operators and laborers always on the lookout for potholes, and they schedule repairs as quickly as possible.
Because of our hard winter 2013 - 2014, (which began with a surprise snow on December 8) the number of potholes is certain to spike this spring. Freezing and thawing (plus a lot of water) is a recipe for road damage, and every winter the Bureau of Highways fills about 50,000 potholes on average. As a rule of thumb, the harder the winter, the more potholes need to be filled. For instance, during the winter of 2010 (you remember Snowmageddon?), potholes increased almost 20 percent. It probably won’t be that bad this year, but it’s sure to go up. We’ve already booked 7,374 potholes this January and about 7,500 in February.
While the weather is still cold, and there’s still a chance of freezing, crews will fill holes with a cold mix and then return in better weather for a permanent, hot mix fix. The hot mix isn’t usually available from the plant until mid-March although some crews have done a limited amount of milling and patching with the hot mix already.
Potholes are a road’s number one enemy and taking care of potholes is the “default setting” for Baltimore County’s Bureau of Highways. Whenever crews aren’t pushing snow or taking care of downed trees, they’re on the next pothole. So, when you see a pothole, report it. Call 410 887-3560 and be sure to give the location – a street address or a cross street is enough – and we will get it fixed as soon as possible.