Even as the sun came out late last week and city road crews continued clearing away the frozen precipitation that remained from a series of recent blizzards, Paul Strizek of the city's Public Works Department had another concern on his mind.
"It's never too early to worry about potholes," he said.
And Strizek knows he'll have plenty of potholes to worry about in the days and weeks to come. The frozen precipitation that bonded with the pavement -- the result of three storms that dumped a combined 22.5 inches of snow on Tulsa -- already had started to create road damage by Feb. 11. That morning, Strizek said he had just come from a stretch of Lewis Avenue between 21st Street and 31st Street that was under construction as part of the city's "Fix Our Streets" program, and he said the remaining lanes were deteriorating badly.
"Citizens need to be on the lookout for potholes and report them to the Mayor's Action Center at 918-596-2100 and slow down," Strizek said, explaining that while doing a television interview at the site -- a construction zone with a posted 25 mph speed limit -- he regularly saw cars whizzing past at 45 mph. That's simply too fast for drivers to see potholes before they hit them, he said.
Though potholes occur year round, they typically become more numerous during the winter when water works its way down fissures in the pavement and freezes. Since water expands when it turns to ice, that leads to increased stress on the pavement, often causing it to crack. The deterioration of the roadway is then completed by the weight of passing vehicles.
Strizek said the warm-up that began late last week and continued into this week would allow city road crews to stop their snow and ice removal efforts and move right into street repair. As soon as the pavement turned dry, he said, the work could begin.
"There'll be a huge response to potholes just like there was a huge response to the storms," he said.
Strizek said it's possible to patch roads in cold weather, but the repair material tends not to bond with the pavement as well as it does when the temperature is higher. So when the asphalt used in the repair gets wet, it tends to deteriorate, he said.
As of last week, Strizek said many of the potholes that already had formed as a result of the recent storms were still full of ice, particularly those located on shady streets. He said he expected the damage would be worse on older streets.
"It's like a person -- the older they get, the worse their problems are and the quicker it happens," he said.
Strizek said he could only speculate at how bad the potholes would be.
"I'm anticipating more than the normal amount of damage," he said. "Of course, there's no way to quantify it at this point. After we go out and fill a lot of those holes, we'll know how much material we've used. But until then, it's just a guess."
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