By Mike LaBella
---- — They’re everywhere.
Across the Merrimack Valley, drivers are swerving to dodge potholes — or risk damaging their cars.
The unusually high number of potholes for this time of year has local leaders pushing their public works crews to make repairs. Communities are even hiring private companies to help.
Haverhill officials said they’ve been attacking the problem with cold patching material, but in addition they hired a local contractor who is bringing in hot asphalt for a longer-lasting repair.
Officials in Haverhill and other communities agreed this has been an exceptionally bad winter for potholes, with up-and-down temperatures causing pavement to expand and contract, and eventually deteriorate.
Methuen DPW Director Raymond DiFiore said he can’t recall a winter like this in 30 years.
“Throughout the winter, we’ve been going to Dracut to Brox (Industries) to pick up hot asphalt,” DiFiore said. “We’ve used very little cold patch, which doesn’t work very well.”
Officials in Haverhill said the only absolute solution is repaving roads. But they said the most practical way to combat the unusually large number of potholes is to apply a temporary cold patch, or better yet a hot asphalt patch that lasts even longer.
Mayor James Fiorentini said he plans to ask the City Council for $10,000 next week to combat the problem.
“We’re inundated with calls about potholes, and rightly so,” Fiorentini said. “I spoke to (DPW Director) Mike Stankovich and he said this is the worst winter for potholes that he can remember.”
Fiorentini said he asked the Highway Department to put additional resources into patching ruts that seem to be everywhere.
Two work crews were out filling potholes yesterday in Haverhill with cold patch material, while the mayor also authorized hiring a local contractor who has a “hot box” that can hold four tons of hot asphalt, which lasts longer than cold patch.
Mike Mazzotta of Mazzotta Construction in Haverhill towed his hot box to Corliss Hill Road yesterday and worked with members of the Highway Department to fill potholes which recently appeared and have plagued drivers.
Mazzotta said he picked up a load of hot asphalt in the morning from the Brox Industries and was able to maintain a temperature of 250 degrees using the steel container’s propane gas heating system. He said the box can hold four tons of asphalt, which is enough for about a day’s worth of pothole patching.
“It’s a huge gas grill,” Mazzotta said.
After chipping ice out of potholes on Corliss Hill Road, Highway Department worker Barry Wilson slipped a pair of sheet metal sandals over his boots to tamp down the asphalt that was dumped into the ruts. He then followed up with a heavy hand-held tamper. The crew planned to continue their pothole patching on Whittier Road and Hilldale Avenue.
“Corliss Hill Road has traditionally been very bad, with water running down that hill,” Fiorentini said.
The city plans to hold another pothole contest for prizes this spring. This will be the third year. The contest provides an incentive to residents to report potholes, which the city promises to fill within 48 hours of them being reported.
“Last year’s pothole contest was very successful,” Fiorentini said.
The mayor said the city is always on the lookout for a more effective pothole patching material.
“It puzzles me that someone has not come up with something that works in the winter,” he said.
Lawrence is dealing with a flood of complaints about potholes across the city. Mayor Daniel Rivera said the condition of the roads is a major concern. He has been urging residents to report potholes to the city’s Department of Public Works.
“We know that spring not only brings rain, but potholes as well,” Rivera said. “More than anything, we need residents to report what they see.”
DiFiore had three crews out patching potholes on Monday. He said they first removed ice and water from the holes, then used hot asphalt that workers hauled in from Brox Industries. On days when Brox is closed, the city buys material from Benivento Asphalt Co. in Wilmington. DiFiore said his department used about 20 tons of hot asphalt on Monday alone.
“If we get a call at 2:30 in the morning from police, we’ll use cold patch as a temporary fix, then later that morning we’ll send out a crew with hot asphalt,” DiFiore said. “With the sudden change in temperature, I think everyone will agree that we experienced the worst of it.”
DiFiore said Methuen has a pothole repair budget, but usually draws on it in the spring. This year was different, he said.
“We felt that if we didn’t take a stand and take care of the problem now, we’d have a worse scenario at the end of winter,” he said.