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As Buffalo patches potholes, drivers eye long-term fix

With area motorists facing the usual spring driving challenge of avoiding spine-rattling, suspension-shaking potholes, public works crews fanned out Sunday across Buffalo to fill in the worst of the holes that pockmark city streets.

Drivers say the cracks, gaps and gashes that mar the region’s roadways – providing Buffalo Niagara’s own version of March Madness – are worse than ever this year.

“The potholes in the city are ridiculous,” Alex Wachowski, who owns a home contracting business, said Sunday as he pumped gas at the Sunoco A-Plus station at Delaware and Kenmore avenues in North Buffalo. “I gotta have work done on my front end on a regular basis. I got flats, I got tires, I got bent rims.”

Public works officials say February’s deep freeze placed the area’s roads at greater risk for potholes once the spring thaw began, and they’re doing what they can to temporarily fill the deepest and widest holes before paving can begin in warmer weather.

“We’ve been trying to target those areas that are prone to potholes. It’s been effective for us,” Steven Stepniak, Buffalo’s public works commissioner, told reporters Sunday to mark the start of the citywide pothole blitz.

Four city crews were out filling in holes along the city’s main thoroughfares to take advantage of a day when traffic is lighter than during the weekday commute.

One crew started on Delaware Avenue, at Hertel Avenue, and worked its way north to Kenmore, shoveling cold patch into the nastiest holes. Other crews tackled Franklin and Niagara streets, among other roadways.

Stepniak urged drivers to call the city’s 311 hotline to help officials identify problem areas.

He said the freeze-thaw cycle creates potholes in Buffalo, across the region and throughout the Northeast, and applying cold patch is only a temporary solution. The city will continue applying cold patch over the next few weeks and may begin putting down hot asphalt, which holds better, once the plants that manufacture it open for the season, Stepniak said.

The city has aggressively paved the most pothole-heavy roadways, including portions of Kenmore and Fillmore avenues, and Stepniak said he has a budget of between $5 million and $6 million – up about $1 million over last year – to do further repaving this year.

Motorists are glad to hear of the city’s intention to fill and pave over pothole-marked streets, because driving has been an unwelcome adventure.

Many cringed at the memory of trying to drive around, or over, deep holes that cause damage to wheels, axles and suspensions.

“A lot of potholes, pretty much everywhere. There’s so many cracks,” said Corey Smith of Grand Island, as he wiped the windshield of his Capital Heat contractor’s truck at the North Buffalo Sunoco. “I think they should be redoing it, instead of trying to fill, because I feel when they fill it just makes it a lot worse.”

Maureen Roberts, a Toronto resident who was visiting her sister on this side of the border, said an unwillingness to prioritize road repairs is the reason for the plentiful potholes.

“Buffalo does a lot of things well. One of the reasons we keep coming back is because we love it,” Roberts said as her husband, Myron Fisher, filled up at the gas station. “But when we’re talking about day-to-day life hassles – getting to work, going on holidays – the roads here are not good.”

However, John Sczepczenski, assistant manager at the Sunoco, shrugged at the idea that this winter has generated any more potholes than usual.

“You live in Western New York, you know what to expect,” he said Sunday. “This is nothing out of the ordinary.”