Every March it seems like every news outlet, both national and local, runs frontline coverage of the self-proclaimed “pothole pandemic.” This puts departments of transportation, road commissions and local public works departments in the limelight as fresh attention is drawn to these municipal agencies and what they are doing to fill potholes efficiently and effectively.
As a Michigan manufacturer, KM International knows all too well the havoc the winter freeze-thaw cycle causes on road and highway systems. Potholes are everywhere, and unfortunately, most potholes filled on a Monday will reoccur again on Tuesday. Although pothole patching often falls under the job of a public works agencies’ duties, most agencies do not have the time, manpower, equipment or expertise to make a long-term repair to these potholes. The past two years have been specifically difficult with a severe labor shortage and a rising cost in asphalt material. So, the question then becomes do municipals keep pothole patching in house or do they bid it out to local asphalt contractors? Looking at this choice objectively, there are benefits and drawbacks to each option here.
To preface the following comparison, there are two important facts that, no matter your decision, need to be addressed. The first is the pothole repair process. The throw-and-go method used by 90% of municipalities will not be a long-term repair solution nor should it be thought of as the standard in the industry. What most municipals do not realize is that taking a couple extra minutes to prep the pothole by cleaning, drying and applying a tack coat, and then placing material and compacting it properly, will drastically increase your pothole patching success rate. The second important factor is material selection and application temperature. Hotmix asphalt should not be applied under 275F and really should be applied between 325-350F. Much of the time, municipalities patch out of the back of a pickup or dump truck, and the asphalt cools well under application temps before workers even get to their first repair area. Even if using a cold patch, that should be applied at 80F to 90F. Without acknowledging these two factors, a municipality’s pothole patching program is already doomed from the start.
Benefits and drawbacks of an internal pothole patching program:
- Keep your crew’s busy year-round.
- Relatively low initial equipment investment cost.
- Ability to respond to citizen complaints and emergency repairs immediately.
- In all honesty, most people dislike working with asphalt, and it isn’t high on their priority list.
- Potential traffic danger to employees, especially in high traffic areas.
- If an employee is not familiar with asphalt and the process, then the repair will likely need to be repaired again in the future.
Benefits and drawbacks of contracting out your pothole patching program:
- In the bid or service contract, you can specify the specifications as to how you want the repairs made following a more thorough process than throw and go.
- Free up labor and equipment resources to focus on other tasks.
- Assuming the contractor is doing a good job, this will ideally eliminate or reduce citizen complaints.
- In the long run, it may be slightly more expensive than keeping it in house.
- You are reliant on a contractor responding in a timely manner and addressing citizens’ concerns.
Regardless of which option is better suited for your organization, the repair process and material temperature are crucial to a successful program. If you choose to keep it in house, come up with a best practice guide sheet so even those who are unfamiliar with the pothole patching process at least have a guide to go from. And if you choose to bid out this type of work, clearly state that the potholes must be cleaned, dried and a tack coat applied before applying material and compacting. Additionally, as stated previously, the application temperature should also be clearly stated in an internal guidebook or bid specification. The application temperatures can be achieved in equipment such as an asphalt hotbox reclaimer.
As a manufacturer of asphalt maintenance equipment, we have seen each scenario successfully implemented in public works organizations across the country. At the end of the day, every municipality is different; therefore, there is not a definite right answer either way. As a public works director or superintendent, you need to evaluate your internal organizational structure to determine what is a better choice for you, your staff and your citizens.
As a manufacturer in the asphalt maintenance industry, KM International is always willing to offer its expertise and knowledge to municipal agencies contemplating between these two options. KM International has a vase knowledge base on not only the equipment used in the pothole patching process but the actual process itself. KM International reps routinely speak at national and local municipal shows and conferences on the proper way to patch potholes and are always willing to share their experience with public works leaders.
For more information, visit www.kminternational.com.