Photo by Sarah Squires
Potholes are aplenty at Latsch Island.
It has been a bumpy ride for weeks for anyone cruising down streets and highways in the Winona region; there is a pothole on nearly every corner.
This year, pothole complaints from residents have been pouring in, prompting City Council member Gerry Krage to ask that the "pothole plan" be presented to city leaders so they can better field resident calls.
Are the potholes worse this year than in past years? The answer depends on the person you ask, but the weather has played a role in cracking pavement and in delaying crews from filling the gaps.
Many watching the weather for conditions to improve and alleviate the current drought have been wishing for a slow melt, with moderately warm temperatures in the day and freezing temperatures at night. This will ensure that snow moisture does not simply run off into streams because the ground is frozen, but instead seeps into the ground and help combat drought conditions.
However, the thawing and freezing are the worst thing for spring roads, with melted snow filling holes and cracks in the road surface and then refreezing at night. The ice expands in the cracks and holes, and creates the potholes we see on streets.
"Everybody says it all the time; 'Oh, it's the worst year,'" said City of Winona Engineer Brian Defrang. "This seems to be as bad as I've seen it."
Defrang said the rain in January seems to have made conditions right for potholes. "The rain got in there, froze, broke the pavement apart," he said. "Any separation in the pavement broke, popped, and you're seeing the results of it now. They're all popping this year."
Winona County Highway Engineer Dave Kramer agreed. "This freeze and thaw action is really tough on the roadways," he said. Kramer said he did not think this spring was particularly bad for potholes when compared to other years, but he said the county is battling wet conditions that have caused abnormal numbers of mudslides along steep roadsides. "From the standpoint of our road system right now, warm, dry weather would be what the doctor ordered."
Along with the increase in potholes and pavement cracks, the continued cold weather and snowfall has delayed city and county crews from hitting the streets to make repairs. Kramer and DeFrang said it was hard to get trucks on the streets repairing roads when the threat of snowfall had them warming up plows as late as last week.
City crews use a cold mix asphalt to fill potholes and street cracks, which needs dry conditions to cure properly. For that reason, street department crews need to watch the weather for more than just late-season snow. If there is a chance of rain, workers will likely move on to other tasks and wait for a dry spell to continue pothole repairs. Kramer said his crews can work when it is wet, but those are not the ideal conditions.
Both the city and county said that, due to the weather, they are behind where they'd like to be with pothole repairs. The complaints keep coming, but all are hoping that residents can be patient until conditions are right to finish the job.
"As far as pothole complaints and issues, I don't know that it's been abnormally bad," said Kramer. "It's just kind of a part of spring."
County highway workers can be reached at 507-457-8840. City street workers can be reached at 457-8276.