State transportation officials confirmed what drivers are feeling through the steering wheel, that New Jersey roads were plagued with a large number of potholes this past January.
Last month, the Department of Transportation repaired 34,800 potholes, which is most it has repaired since Jan. 2014, when 31,075 were filled, said Steven Schapiro, a DOT spokesman. Last year, the DOT filled 28,000 potholes in January.
“The extreme weather this year, with the number of snow storms, heavy rains, and severe freeze-thaw cycles we have experienced, has been particularly harsh on New Jersey’s roads this year,” Schapiro said.
While the DOT fills potholes year round, the most active pothole repair effort usually happens in the spring, he said. This year, the repair blitz will start early with an announcement this week, he said.
In the past week, motorists complained about a mammoth pothole in the left lane of I-78 east in Newark that flattened tires last week. Numerous vehicles hit potholes on the New Jersey Turnpike Hudson County extension during rain storms on Saturday night, which left some drivers on the roadside changing with flat tires.
And Monday was a little more manic than usual with road crews deployed to make emergency repairs to potholes during rush hour on Route 80 in Morris County and to do roving road repairs on the Garden State Parkway in Union County. Repair work continued on Tuesday.
Emergency maintenance and Pothole repairs on Garden State Parkway southbound South of Exit 137 – NJ 28 state police traffic slowdown in progress
— NJDOT (@skywayrehab) February 12, 2018
Pothole season is here early because of the constant temperature swing, said an expert called the top pavement researcher in the country.
The cycle of cold temperatures, a warming trend the next day, followed by a freeze prompted the early start of pothole season, said Associate Professor Hao Wang, Rutgers Infrastructure Engineering Graduate Program Director.
Think of potholes forming in the road like cavities in teeth. Instead of food and sugar, it’s water that gets into holes in the road surface, freezes, thaws and breaks down the bond between asphalt and stone that holds the pavement together, Wang said.
“This becomes worse as water freezes, which cause expansion (of ice) and stress in the asphalt mix,” he said. “As temperature goes up and down in winter, the frequent freezing-thaw cycles cause repeated stress. More water (gets) trapped and accelerates the development of potholes.”
That’s not comforting news for drivers in a state where 28 percent of the pavement is considered to be in good condition, 32 percent is rated fair, and 40 percent is in different degrees of “distressed” condition, according to a state Department of Transportation report on pavement conditions in 2016.
Schapiro encouraged drivers to report potholes by calling 1-800-POTHOLE or using the on-line form on the DOT website.
“The Department responds quickly, especially to reports of potholes that create safety concerns based on their size and location,” he said.
What can drivers do, beside pray? Keep an eye out on the road ahead to avoid potholes, said AAA officials. Watch other drivers ahead as well. If they’re stopping or swerving, they’re probably avoiding potholes.
If you can’t avoid a pothole, slow down to minimize the damage, but avoid making a panic stop, AAA said.
Larry Higgs may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @commutinglarry. Find NJ.com on Facebook.
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