Pothole patrol scours city streets

Potholes are made when water seeps under a road and expands upon freezing

MY HEAD would have bounced off the truck’s roof had my seat belt not been holding me in place.

With a couple of loud thuds, the vehicle bounced somewhat violently before slowly rolling to a stop halfway up on the sidewalk.

“Driving over them is the only way we find them eh,” said Bill Turner, a city worker with the roads department and also my tour guide during a drive through Terrace’s pothole landscape.

Turner is the only person I’ve met who purposely looks for big potholes to drive over. The rest of us, I’m sure, try to avoid them.

It’s tough for drivers in Terrace to avoid them completely though. Our climate’s multiple freeze-thaw cycles in winter do a great job at chewing up roadbeds. This winter has been no exception. Potholes abound.

But city road foreman Henry Craveiro said this year is better than last.

“Last year was the worst year we’ve had in a long time,” he said, explaining that last winter saw more freeze thaw cycles than this year so far.

Potholes are made when water seeps under a road and expands upon freezing, putting pressure on surrounding materials. Additional pressure from vehicles on weak spots breaks down asphalt further, ultimately making a hole, said Craveiro.

“Asphalt really only has a lifetime of 15 years,” he added, noting the vast majority of Terrace roads are much older.

He explained that new roads are not immune, but better drainage that comes with a newer road bed and less space for water to seep through makes potholes less likely to form.

“The only way to really eliminate potholes is eliminate the freeze thaw cycle,” said Craveiro.

But with older Terrace roads, and no way to control mother nature, potholes are inevitable.

Money to deal with them comes from Terrace’s winter road maintenance budget, which I learned much about repairing potholes on my tour with Turner.

“We try to get all of the big ones first and then we go back and fill the smaller ones,” said Turner.

Holes are filled in with EPM, which stands for emergency patching material, a substance that looks somewhat like black-molasses filled with sand and crushed asphalt.

The stuff costs $300 a barrel, and I was surprised at how quickly it went.

The city used 140 barrels last year and has used around 90 barrels this year so far.

Turner and I started with one 600-pound barrel, which is dumped in the box of a city truck by a fork lift.

We left the city’s public works building at 2:09 p.m. and started driving through puddles, looking for potholes.

The vehicle pulled to a stop on Graham Ave. after a couple of loud, bouncy thuds.

“As soon as you get a bang, you stop and fill it up,” said Turner before hopping out of the truck and grabbing his shovel.

It took three heaping shovels filled with EPM to fill the a hole about 13” in diameter and 8” deep. The EPM brimmed over the top.

To pack it down, Turner backed up with his tires over the former hole. We drove forwards, and back again, and then on we went in search of the next pothole.

During our two hour excursion, Turner went through two barrels and covered 2 km of road, filling in only the worst potholes – some more than two feet wide and about a foot deep.

Turner said during an average 8 hour work day he’ll use from six to 10 barrels.

Turner was contagiously enthusiastic about the job.

“I just like helping the people out,” he said many times throughout our two-hour trip. “Lots of time people wave and I wave back at them eh.”

When filling potholes, people are much friendlier than when he’s driving the snow plow , he said laughing.