PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The city can hire as many workers as it wants, but if the asphalt plant isn't open, the potholes won't get filled any quicker.
City workers are beginning to fill the pesky holes with the opening over two days of an asphalt plant.
That's what Commissioner of Public Services David Turocy told the City Council Tuesday night. This winter's weather with constant precipitation and freezing and thawing has made the city roads look like a war zone. The City Council feels this year is worse than before and would like to implement a policy to get the holes patched quicker.
"Ultimately what we want to accomplish is looking at all the ways to better, more efficiently, and quickly address potholes," Council Vice President John Krol said, saying this year is the worst for potholes that he can remember.
Turocy, however, said it is more of a matter of access to the material. The asphalt plants close up in the fall and don't reopen until the spring. On Tuesday, an asphalt plant in Sunderland opened by appointment only and Turocy said the city was one of the first in line to bring back some 40 ton of blacktop.
"It is an asphalt plant that is just open today and tomorrow by appointment early," he said.
Ward 4 Councilor Christopher Connell, however, questioned the use of the Bagela 7000 Asphalt Recycler, which was heralded when the city purchased it in 2014. It was said to be the "cream of the crop" when it comes to recycling reclaimed asphalt to handle potholes quickly, he noted.
The machine can produce three to four tons of reclaimed blacktop, four times during a workday. Connell said 16 tons of blacktop being laid down a day is "a lot."
Turocy responded: "No. It is not a fraction of what we need out there."
"I could put out 300 tons and not fill all the potholes," he said.
The Bagela heats used asphalt, breaks it down, and then places it into the Department of Public Works' two 3.5 ton "hot boxes." The boxes keep the asphalt warm throughout the day and workers can place more permanent fixes with that, instead of simply cold patching the holes.
"I hate cold patch. It is probably the worst thing they ever invented," Connell said.
Cold patch is essentially some material that will last a day, maybe a little bit more if the hole is large. The material washes out quickly and is used as a temporary stop-gap until a more permanent fix can be done.
Turocy agrees that cold patch doesn't last very long. He said the department uses the Bagela every chance it can during the winter to patch holes. But, it just doesn't produce enough hot asphalt to address all of the needs.
"Every time there has been decent weather we've been running it," Turocy said. "The real answer is we have to get blacktop and the plants aren't open."
Turocy said this winter has been much harsher on the roads than in past years. There have been very few dry days for workers to fix the roads and the changes in temperature have led to more water getting into the pavement, freezing, expanding, and cracking the pavement. Once the pavement cracks once, those holes just keep getting bigger.
"There is just a lot of places where the water is getting in," Turocy said. "It just didn't have that period of two weeks between storms."
The highway crews have been prioritizing the worst potholes first and going from there. Now, this week East New Lenox Road, Hubbard Avenue, Pecks Road, Seymour Street, East Street, and Dalton Avenue are all among the top priorities because of the condition.
Before next winter, Turocy said he wants to launch a large crack sealing program to help prevent water from penetrating the roads as bad. The city hasn't executed a crack sealing contract in a few years.
"I am a fan of crack sealing. We don't have a good crack sealing program in Pittsfield, we haven't done it consistently," Turocy said.
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