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Spring brings a new crop of potholes <br> Not as bad as in past but still a bumpy ride

The ice boom is coming out.

The lights at the downtown ballpark have been repaired.

Crocuses are blooming.

Ah, the signs of spring, including a new crop of potholes.

Road crews throughout the region have been shoveling thousands of tons of cold patch into mini-craters on scores of roads.

"When you get these warm days and cool nights, you get the freeze-thaw. And that's what causes potholes," said Erie County Public Works Commissioner Gerard J. Sentz.

"Right after the February storm, we were hit pretty hard and started to see a lot of potholes popping up," said Michael Hoffman, the City of Lockport's superintendent of highways and parks.

Local highway officials, for the most part, don't think pothole problems are more severe than in prior years, but they concede that motorists face bumpy rides on many roads -- and the season is still young.

Municipalities have a mix of local, county and state roads. Each entity is responsible for making pothole repairs on its own roads.

Niagara Falls will soon begin its third season of using the "Pothole Killer," a one-man spray-injection machine that it rents for one month. The city spends $70,000, and the price is "worth every penny," Public Works Director David L. Kinney said.

"I can take care of 10 potholes in the time it would take me to do one the old-fashioned way," he said. "And it's a smoother ride. You put regular patch into a pothole, and you're going to get more of a bump."

The Town of Tonawanda and the City of North Tonawanda use new technology that repairs potholes the same way a dentist repairs cavities.

A milling machine removes existing material to a desired depth, and a tack coat is applied to provide adhesion for the cold patch. Then the "filling" is tamped down or rolled.

New cold patch material has more polymers and additives, Town of Tonawanda Highway Superintendent Bradley A. Rowles said, and it isn't kicked up when vehicles drive over it.

"I am thrilled with the new material," he said. "I won't have to go back . . . until I get back into my actual construction season."

Those patches have also held up in North Tonawanda. "We did some last year in really cold weather," said Mike Guidotti, assistant highway superintendent. "Those patches we put in last year are still in today."

But because of the manpower and time required for that process, it's done sparingly.

Elsewhere, crews are handling repairs the traditional way. They use cold patch -- an asphalt binder used with stone. When hot asphalt plants finally open next month, crews will return to make more permanent repairs.

Both Buffalo and Erie County have tested the spray-injection machines. City Public Works Commissioner Steven J. Stepniak said the machine did a good job, but cost concerns and other factors spurred Buffalo to rule it out.

Sentz said the "Pothole Killer" requires crews to return for post-cleanups, adding that the county didn't have the resources for these additional steps.

In the Southtowns, pothole season is quiet so far.

"We haven't really had any calls . . . so far this year on our town roads," said Town of Lancaster Highway Superintendent Daniel J. Amatura.

"We have a regular maintenance schedule. Every year we mill and repave some of the older town roads."

"We are in very good shape," said Frederick J. Piasecki Jr., the Town of Orchard Park's highway superintendent. "We take a lot of pride in the roads."

It's a different story in Cheektowaga, where crews have made three sweeps since the weather broke and are applying cold patches as needed, according to Highway Superintendent Mark D. Wegner.

"We try to pave 70 streets a year," Wegner said, giving those streets the full treatment so that they are good for another 15 to 20 years.

In Buffalo, crews were at Jefferson and Woodlawn avenues Wednesday patching the 20,000th pothole since the city began its 48-hour pothole repair guarantee three years ago.
Mayor Byron W. Brown's office released data showing that pothole complaints in the first quarter have hit a four-year low. In fact, the 348 complaints lodged since Jan. 1 are down 60 percent from the same period a year ago.

Even with a week remaining in March, city officials were optimistic that complaint levels would be at least 50 percent lower than last year. Brown expressed confidence that the numbers would continue to decline.

The city is expected to spend up to $4 million this year for paving projects, the most in recent years.

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Pothole patrol

Phone numbers for reporting potholes:

Erie County roads: 858-7966
Buffalo roads: 311 or 851-4890
Thruway and other state roads: 1-800-POTHOLE (768-4693)
Amherst roads: 631-7117
Cheektowaga roads: 686-3450
Lancaster roads: 683-1610 or 683-3426
Orchard Park roads: 662-6442
Town of Tonawanda roads: 875-8822
Niagara Falls roads: 286-4840
North Tonawanda roads: 695-8585
Other localities: Check with individual city, town or village highway or public works departments.

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