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Potholes make for bumpy roads in the spring

GRAND FORKS — As snow melts from the roads, a perennial driving annoyance — the pothole — is revealed.

Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, Minn., street crews have started patching the roads where they can while continuing to clean up after the recent snowfall. But, it’s still too early to know the extent of the damage.

The city of Grand Forks started repairing its potholes a couple of weeks ago, said Mark Aubol, streets superintendent.

As the thawing ground shifts the road surface, creating spring potholes, the Streets Department will use temporary patches until the ground is warm and stable enough to not ruin a permanent patch, Aubol said. Once the thaw is over, the Streets Department will permanently patch the potholes.

Until the roads are ready for a permanent patch, Grand Forks’ street crews may tend to potholes in high traffic areas as much as once a day.

And when it comes time to put a permanent patch on the road, the amount of work needed also often depends on the traffic in that area.

“The severity of the pothole depends on the traffic,” Aubol said. “There are times where we’ll have to come in and do a bigger job on it,” like cutting out the section of road affected by a pothole and rebuilding it.

Aubol said he’s not sure how this year will shake out as far as the number of potholes in Grand Forks. “With the frost so deep, we may not see a big rush until late April, and we’ll probably work well into May,” he said.

EGF: An average year

Jason Stordahl, public works director of East Grand Forks, said his department is also unsure of how widespread the pothole problem will be, but from a visual perspective and the work needed already, it appears to him that this year will be about average.

More will be known soon. “When the thaw comes out, that’s when the ground shifts,” he said.

Many of EGF’s streets are made of concrete, but have asphalt overlays. Some of the newer streets have drain tile installed to aid in removing excess water.

“That’s one way to control cracking and potholes,” Stordahl said.

Although cities in some regions pave roads initially with asphalt, concrete typically is preferred in this area, Stordahl said, because it stands up better to the heavy truck traffic.

And, asphalt is preferred for patch work because “it’s more moldable,” Stordahl said.

East Grand Forks has eliminated much of the guesswork about which streets to repair. The city is in its first year of using a new pavement management system, which assesses streets’ condition and recommends a response based on the severity of the damage.

“The program has a complete record of when each street was built, what we’ve done to it since and recommends treatment, whether its total replacement, resurfacing, crack-sealing measures or seal coats,” Stordahl said.

The program will be an asset for determining whether a street needs an overhaul or a bandage, Stordahl said.

Long-term repairs

Grand Forks also uses computer software to assess streets’ condition and recommend a response based on the severity of damage.

The city Engineering Department takes the recommendations of the computer software and then turns to the city budget to see what kinds of long-term repairs the city can afford.

In recent years there have been fewer federal dollars allocated to Grand Forks for street repair, said Rich Romness, assistant city engineer.

“(Federal funding has) been going down. It’s not much, but it’s very noticeable,” he said. “We’ve got less money to deal with the problems.”

Also, Grand Forks’ growth has pushed money allocated for road repair into repairing and widening some major streets to fit increasing traffic, Romness said, which takes away from redoing some less-busy streets.

“The priority is on the main roads,” Aubol said. “In a back neighborhood, if we can continue to patch it, that probably would be the way we’d go.”