Winter left more potholes than usual

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles about the effects this winter’s extreme weather had on the local area.

ELKINS – Ice and snow – and also salt – have taken their toll on area highways and city streets.

Officials from the West Virginia Division of Highways and the city of Elkins report the freeze and thaw cycle through the winter season was the main culprit for most of the damage.

City of Elkins Operations Manager Bob Pingley said this winter was rougher than the last few, which has forced the city to use more salt on the roads.

“Salt is very destructive to roadways,” he said. “The reason is that when you apply salt during the day, it melts the ice and snow, which seeps into openings in the pavement; then it freezes, expands and breaks the pavement up even worse.”

“A very good roadway surface with no imperfections is fine, but older streets allow water to penetrate and crack further,” Pingley added.

Division of Highways District 8 Engineer Mike Moran said the fluctuation of temperatures made the problem worse.

“Typically we have freeze and thaw that damages the highways and causes a lot of potholes,” Moran said. “The freeze and thaw causes potholes. As it freezes, it cracks worse and more water runs through as it thaws out.”

Plowing snow, while a necessity, also can be detrimental to the roadways.

Pingley said sometimes a plow will grab hold of pavement that is already damaged and rip it open.

“It can catch when we plow,” he said. “We try to minimize that as best we can but any time there is an edge sticking up, it can catch and tear a piece loose.”

Another issue is water line breaks that force the city to tear up roadways for repairs. Pingley said Elkins has had an average number of water breaks so far this year, but has seen an increase in frozen meters and pipes at residences.

“This (pipes breaking) is really a function of extreme cold. The further down temperatures go, it can cause the ground to shift. Pipes can’t take much movement,” Pingley said. “I would say we are about average on water breaks. On frozen meters and pipes in people’s houses, we have seen more than in the last couple years.”

Pingley said potholes don’t seem to be more prevalent this year, but do seem to be more severe and larger than in years past.

“It seems like the potholes are deeper this year for some reason and I don’t know why except the long winter and we haven’t been able to do anything with them,” he said.

Moran said that salt can make the ground soften and retain water, leading to base failures, or sinking, that causes the pavement to break down and intensifies potholes. He said potholes can become a major problem for motorists.

“Potholes present more of a problem for motorists,” he said. “It seems like they are more prevalent where traffic wheel lines are traveling.”

The DOH has allocated money for pothole patching throughout the spring and summer season, and they are already doing some temporary patching with a coal mix, Moran said.

At a recent Elkins City Council meeting, Pingley said his crews have been temporarily patching potholes when they can obtain the mix from the DOH.