Missouri road crews are busy tackling potholes after serious cold spell

By Mike Genet mike.genet@examiner.net

For area public works leaders, the early weeks of pothole season have been relatively normal.

Although the serious cold spell in February caused some headaches, the weather generally has been favorable for not causing an over-abundance of potholes, and giving crews a chance to make repairs.

“Overall, it’s been a pretty typical winter, as far as the damage it does to the pavement,” said Jimmy Shannon, assistant district maintenance engineer for the Missouri Department of Transportation. “The benefit is we haven’t had as many freeze-thaw cycles this year; (that) really causes a lot of havoc on the pavement.”

Then, after the cold spell, the weather warmed enough and stayed dry that crews could make more long-lasting repairs. Whereas cold-mix asphalt is meant for temporary repairs, hot-mix asphalt compacts better and producers a longer-lasting fix. This contrasts especially to two years ago, when storms and a constant freeze-thaw cycle had road crews scurrying around by the end of the January to make repairs they knew wouldn’t last long.

A Missouri Department of Transportation worker patches a pothole last year in the area of U.S. 50 and Interstate 470 in Lee’s Summit. Officials say the weather this year has generally been helpful for road crews in making pothole repairs.

“We haven’t had a lot of rain, which helps the material hold, and we can make a good repair,” Shannon said. “We haven’t had to make as many temporary repairs and use the cold mix.”

Freezing weather doesn’t necessarily prevent hot-mix asphalt from being used, but it can limit supply as asphalt producers might not operate as much. Zan McKinney, streets superintendent for the city of Independence, said February’s cold spell led to that issue.

“The plant we get our supply from actually shut down, and we were kind of stuck not being able to get the hot asphalt,” he said. “We have had to use cold mix during the cold snap and some time before that, any time with cold mix, we go back and chip out the cold mix and replace it with hot mix.”

Since the beginning of the year, McKinney estimated, Independence crews had patched about 1,200 potholes through last week. That includes about 750 in about two weeks after the cold spell, when they regained access to hot asphalt.

Keep in mind, McKinney says, that a small hole just a few inches across, which might hardly be felt on the road, counts the same as a giant one a driver might steer to avoid.

“If you don’t fix them, they will turn into the big ones,” he said.

Shannon said that after it snows, MoDOT crews generally try to tackle some potholes as soon as possible.

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“Right after the storm, as soon as we can, we start shifting the trucks and taking the spreaders and go out for pothole patching,” he said. “We try to find the worst ones. After that we take a corridor approach and try to get them all on a certain stretch of one highway. It’s kind of a two-phase approach.”

Blue Springs Public Works Director Chris Sandie said his crews have been busy making temporary repairs since the cold spell.

“We had that really deep cold weather, which didn’t cause many to pop up, and once it thawed out we saw them start to appear,” he said Monday.

Sandie said his department handled about 400 potholes in February – a good number of them repeats due to temporary repairs. Also, due to pandemic staff health guidelines and working with a shorter staff, they’re still finishing a carryover list of repairs from last summer and fall.

Right now, Blue Springs crews receive about as many, if not more, requests to pick up random trash that sometimes accumulates alongside roads.

“We seem to get a plethora of requests of trash pickup,” he said. “People seem to be more upset about trash.”

Shannon also notes that with health guidelines leading to just one person in a vehicle, motorists might see more vehicles than normal and a more crowded presence at a worksite. As such, motorists should be aware. Of the 48 incidents last year in which a MoDOT vehicle got hit by a motorist not paying enough attention, Shannon said, 19 of those happened during a pothole repair session.

Independence residents can report potholes by calling the pothole hotline at 816-325-7624 or by using the IndepNow app at indep.us/actioncenter.

Blue Springs residents can call the 24-hour hotline for potholes (816-228-0291) or leave a message at the operations center (816-228-0195).

In both cities, they don’t fill potholes on state and U.S. roads that MoDOT maintains (such as U.S. 24, U.S. 40 and Missouri 7).

For MoDOT roads – highways, bridges and overpasses – call 1-888-ASK-MoDOT to report potholes, or use the department's website (www.modot.org), Twitter handle (modot_kc) or Facebook page (MoDOT.KansasCity).

For Jackson County roads in the unincorporated areas of the county, go to www.jacksongov.org/316/Public-Works and click on “Maintenance Request.”