Patching potholes becomes priority in Berkshires
Photo Gallery: Potholes in Berkshire County
Local highway crews this week have traded in snowplows and road salt for shovels and asphalt to deal with the plethora of potholes plaguing the Berkshires.
City and town public works departments are taking advantage of a rare storm-free week this month to get caught up on road repairs caused by the cycle of mild and sub-freezing weather this winter.
Rain/snow melt alternating with cold and snow has caused many roads to expand and contract, creating one of the worst pothole seasons in recent memory, according to several municipal public works officials.
"It's been a perfect storm of potholes," said Pittsfield Public Utilities Commissioner Bruce I. Collingwood. "Until we get all the frost out of the ground, the water can't drain."
"Roads that shouldn't be cracking are cracked," added Les Beebe, Tyringham's highway superintendent.
Many communities are using cold patch asphalt and road sealant to temporarily fill in the gaps of paved roads until hot asphalt becomes available in mid-April.
"We've already used 20 ton of cold patch this winter and I have another 30 ton coming," said Assistant Lee DPW Superintendent Dennis Kelly. "It's the most we've used in 20 years."
On Tuesday, Lee focused on patching up Tyringham Road -- the town's poster child for potholes -- scheduled for major reconstruction this spring. The main thoroughfare linking Lee to Tyringham has been deteriorating since the mid-1990s.
In Pittsfield, pothole repair means using recycled asphalt. Since 2010, the city has relied a special reclamation machine that grinds up old pavement and processes it into hot patch to smooth out rough roads.
"It puts out eight tons of black top an hour," Collingwood noted. "Hot blacktop stays in the hole a lot better than cold blacktop."
City officials urge drivers to use caution on pothole-infested roads and residents to report the troublesome ones by going to www.cityofpittsfield.org and click on "Report An Issue" in the lower right-hand corner of the home page.
Meanwhile, Williamstown is among a few Berkshire communities who have avoided a pothole crisis -- so far.
"We have patched a few potholes," said Director of Public Works Timothy Kaiser "Fortunately they're not too bad up here -- not yet."
The height of the pothole season usually occurs in March, the transition month from winter to spring.
"We'll start to see more frost heaves and potholes as the warmer weather settles in," said Great Barrington DPW Superintendent Joe Sokul.
Spring is officially three weeks away, but Sokul doubts local highway crews are done plowing, salting and sanding the roads for the season.
"We've been pretty lucky in March the past few years, but I think there is another good storm left before winter is over," he said.
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