LIMA — Allen County Engineer Brion Rhodes calls it an annual rite of spring.
It could otherwise be known as the annual Great Pothole Search.
For those in an around Lima who are responsible for maintaining public roadways, now is the time to scour streets and highways in search of costly and potentially hazardous holes in the pavement left behind after a long, hard winter.
Potholes are holes in the roadway caused by the expansion and contraction of ground water under the pavement. When water gets into the ground under the pavement and then freezes, it causes the pavement will expand, bend and crack, weakening the road surface. When ice melts, the pavement contracts and leaves gaps under the pavement where water can get in and be trapped. If the water freezes and thaws over and over, the pavement will weaken and continue cracking.
According to the American Automobile Association, pothole damages cost U.S. motorists a total of about $3 billion per year. On a per-pothole-incident basis, that works out to about $300 per driver, but depending on what part of your car was damaged, those costs can vary. Tires, wheels, suspension systems, exhaust systems and car bodies are the most common casualties.
According to Pothole.com, not all potholes are created equal. While $300 per driver in an average, those costs can be much higher. A full replacement of a suspension system can set a motorist back $5,000.
With jurisdiction over 353 miles of Allen County roadway, Rhodes and his highway crews are constantly on the lookout for potholes and other deficiencies in the pavement. Crews are particularly on the lookout for such hazards each year after winter yields its icy grip.
Following a prolonged cold spell and bouts of heavy snowfall earlier this month, a stretch of unseasonably warm weather last week melted ice and snow cover from county roadways and allowed crews to eyeball problem areas that need immediate attention.
“Our guys are filling potholes all the time and right now — with the warmer weather — we have a little additional time to look for problem areas,” the engineer said Thursday.
The bad news is that any such fixes will be temporary.
“What the general public doesn’t understand is that the asphalt plants are not open at this time of year so we have to fill potholes with what we call a cold mix,” Rhodes said. “It’s not ideal, but it will fill the holes until a permanent repair can be done later.”
While temperatures throughout the first three weeks of February were well below freezing, Rhodes said asphalt holds up fairly well under consistent cold temperatures.
“It’s the freeze and thaw that’s hard on roads and equipment. And we’re still not out of the woods yet. March can be a bad month for that. But I’d rather have low temperatures any day than a lot of fluctuation” in daily temperatures during the winter months, Rhodes said.