UNION COUNTY, NJ — Although the first day of spring is tomorrow, drivers still have to maneuver around the minefield of ruts and potholes that formed on local, county and state roadways after the brutal winter snowstorms of the last several months.
Potholes are a type of road surface failure that may appear to pop up overnight but actually the problem is a result of several factors coming together.
The most common is when water seeps into a crack in the surface of the road and eventually undermines the stability of the surface. Once that happens, the roadway becomes further stressed by summer heat or freezing winter temperatures and snow.
Eventually, with the additional burden of constant traffic, surface cracks deepen, the asphalt layer over these enlarging cracks collapses and every car or truck driving over the weakness in the road makes the problem worsen until a large or small pothole forms.
A spring thaw accelerates this process because upper portions of the soil structure in the pavement cannot drain past the frozen lower layers below.
Road crews have been out filling these potholes as fast as they can, but apparently not fast enough for some drivers who called LocalSource to tell their story about hitting one of these often deceptive spaces that appear out of nowhere.
Jeffrey Mansomo, of Union, said simply going to the store for a gallon of milk one evening turned into major problem after he hit what he deemed “an unbelievable” pothole on Fairway Drive.
“It was dark and I just didn’t see it,” said the resident, explaining he hit plenty of potholes all over the county but this particular one resulted in a blown tire.
“I heard the tire blow and thought ‘how am I going to change a tire in the dark on a road that has a lot of traffic?’” said Mansomo, quipping that despite the inconvenience of a flat spare tire that was of no use, and calling a service to come to his aid at a cost of $254, he said he has been “in worse predicaments.”
“What can you do? Potholes are part of life when you live in New Jersey,” said the Union resident.
Roselle resident Amaline Brownford agreed, but noted that she was not “a happy camper” initially.
“I was on my way to school at Kean University and I saw the pothole but it didn’t look that bad,” she said, adding that initially she did not realize the tire even blew until she drove up the roadway a block or so.
“There was snow on the road, deep crevices and, of course, potholes, so I figured it was just the road, but it wasn’t,” the student said, adding “so much for getting to class early.”
Other residents told LocalSource about the huge potholes on Morris Avenue in Union and many other places all over the county.
Most drivers said no matter where they went, it was a matter of keeping a close eye on the roads in order to avoid a mishap. Also at issue with residents in most towns is who handles certain roadways — the municipality, county or state.
In Union, for example, township administrator Ron Manzella explained that roadways such as Stuyvesant Avenue and Chestnut Street are county roads, while Morris Avenue is a state-owned road. As for those the township is responsible for, Manzella said the department of public works has been temporarily filling potholes as fast as they can.
“You can’t permanently fill potholes until the weather warms up and the asphalt companies begin producing again,” said the township administer, explaining DPW workers use a “cold patch” material to fill potholes until a permanent fix can be done in the warmer weather.
“We keep a computer log of the streets where temporary patches have been made so our DPW can go back out and patch things permanently,” Manzella said.
Union, which is 10 square miles, according to the township administrator, has 630 streets and thousands of potholes. In 2014 the DPW filled 17,490 potholes, using 544 tons of Itop5, which is a hot patch material. Another 116 streets were “crack filled” with 97 metric tons of cold patch bags and another 1,057 tons of cold patch material.
This year the township DPW, which has 68 full-time workers, has 40 workers out on the road every day in teams of two and three filling potholes.
“We have six full crews out everyday when the weather cooperates,” said Manzella, explaining that the township had 65 percent more potholes in the first quarter of the year than in 2014 due to the extreme cold temperatures and “enormous amounts of snow.”
The DPW is overseen by Department of Public Works Superintendent Sergio Panunzio, who is charged with ensuring his workers are filling those potholes. How are they doing so far this year?
“So far we filled 2,614 potholes with 12 tons of cold patch,” said Manzella, explaining the DPW takes the cold patch material and uses a hot box which helps the material stay a little better in a pothole than just the temporary cold patch. As for the number of calls and emails the township receives, the township administrator said it stays steady at about 8 to 10 reports a day.
“We immediately work to clear those up as soon as possible,” he added.
Residents who want to report a pothole can go to the township website, click on the “administration” tab and scroll down to “report a concern.” This will take you to a form that can be filled out and submitted right online.
Manzella said when the township receives a “report a concern” submission they immediately take care of it. Residents also can email Manzella at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 908-851-8500 for assistance with pothole repair.
This procedure is available in most towns, with websites providing a place for residents to either call or email about a pothole location. Website links for all 21 municipalities in Union County are available through the county website at ucnj.org/municipalities.
County officials are advising residents that road crews will be out in force repairing potholes that continue to crop up faster than they can be repaired.
“This has been an especially difficult winter, and we want to get our roads back in shape as quickly as possible,” said Freeholder Chairman Mohamed S. Jalloh in a statement.
County roads are identified by blue signs with the letter CR followed by a three-digit number.
To report a pothole on a county road, residents can go online and fill out at form at http://ucnj.org/publicworksfacilities/pot-hole-report-form, or residents can call 908-789-3660.
To report a pothole on a state road, call the New Jersey Department of Transportation at 1-800-POTHOLE or fill out an online form at the NJDOT’s website.
The state DOT said they typically fill 180,000 potholes a year, but already this year they have filled 125,000 potholes and expect that number to reach approximately 300,000 because of the difficult winter. In order to fill these potholes, the state has 13 state-of-the-art filling machines, which speed the job considerably.