Public Works Turns To “Cold Patch” Pothole Duty

Thomas MacMillan PhotoFirst, Rafael Rivas shoveled a load of “cold patch” into a cavity in the road. Then Jerome Houser smashed it down with the “tamper.” Finally, cars rolled over the spot to seal the deal.

Another pothole filled, for now.

Rivas and Houser (pictured working on Legion Avenue) comprise one of three pothole-filling crews deployed across the city Thursday. Their efforts were part of a week-long push by the public works department to fill in some of the craters that have opened up in city streets.

“We’ve been out through the winter doing potholes,” said Doug Arndt, head of public works. He said he’s usually had one truck out each day filling potholes. This week, public works is sending out three or more trucks per day.

Arndt said the city can go through six to eight tons of cold patch per day during an operation like this. “When they’re out there, it goes fast.”

The city is ramping up its efforts now thanks to “the big turn, when everything heaves,” Arndt said. “When you start getting warm days and cold night, then you have these freeze-thaw cycle. You have this pumping action and any loose areas start to pop.”

On warm days, melting snow flows into cracks and fissures in the pavement. On cold nights, the water freezes and expands, making the cracks bigger and bigger. As a result, driving or biking in New Haven can become an obstacle course, or a moguls run.

The solution, at this time of year, is a substance called “cold patch.” It’s gravel mixed with a bonding agent, or “tack,” said public works supervisor Tony Desai, working on Legion Avenue with Rivas and Houser.

Cold patch is not as effective as “hot patch,” the heated steaming asphalt that cools to be as hard as the rest of the road. But hot patch isn’t available this time of year. “The asphalt plants shut down for the winter season from December to the first week of April,” Arndt said. Cold patch is more porous and can be loosened and dislodged by heavy snow or rain. “Unfortunately, it’s what everybody is forced to use.”

Arndt said his department is working on a citywide operation, but that doesn’t mean every street will get attention. “Some streets may not get anything,” he said. Others will have “extensive” pothole-filling.

Arndt said public works deploys its resources in response to complaints, either phoned in or posted on SeeClickFix. Pothole reports “are priorities because the city is liable,” Arndt said. “We need to provide a timely response.”

The city aims to fill reported potholes within 24 to 72 hours, Arndt said. “Our goal is to be there as soon as we can.”

On Thursday afternoon on Legion Avenue, Rivas and Houser had their dump truck stopped in the left-hand lane with the bed raised. The scooped the cold patch, which came from Tilcon in North Branford, out with long-handled shovels. They spooned it into potholes and pushed it down with the end of the shovels.

Houser pulled out the flat-bottomed tamper and pounded the patch flush with the road. Passing traffic presses the patch down further, sealing it to the road. Rivas pointed triumphantly at a recently filled hole in the right lane, freshly run over by a car. “Smooth as a baby’s butt!” he proclaimed.

Desai said cold patch works best on deep holes. “I have seen craters,” he said. “Craters!”

Desai (pictured) said public works hit craters Thursday on Long Wharf and Sargent drives; Orchard, Elm, and Orange streets, and Broadway.

Cold patch doesn’t work as well on shallow potholes, where just a layer or two of asphalt is missing. “That’s more for hot patch,” Houser said, pointing to one such area. “We call it a scab.”

Even on deep holes, cold patch has limitations. “If there’s no snow or rain, it’ll be here for a long time,” Desai said. Lots of snow and rain will infiltrate the tack and loosen the patch, he said. As cars drive over, the gravel can be sent flying, ending up at the sides of the roads.

With six inches of snow predicted for Sunday and Monday, Rivas and Houser’s freshly laid cold patch my not last.

“I’m hoping it stays in the hole,” said Arndt.

Seen any big potholes the city has missed? Post a comment below.

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posted by: HewNaven on March 1, 2014  11:38am

I rode down Lombard (between Ferry and Atwater) last week and almost got swallowed up in the Eastbound lane. Might want to fix that one.

Thank you!