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Pothole problems plague drivers

After repeated freezing and thawing, water is leaving its annual mark on Tahoe roads.

Dozens of potholes in all shapes and sizes are dotting state routes, highways and neighborhood roads, forming cracks that reach across the pavement like straggling branches of a tree.

Road crews scrambled before it began snowing Thursday to patch the growing crevices. But the little doses of hot asphalt they leave behind are temporary solutions – they won’t last much longer than a few months, according to the California Department of Transportation. Real repair work must wait until summer.



“We’ve been filling the potholes for the last two days,” said Caltrans supervisor Bryan Carlson. “We try to brush out as much water as we can then dump the filler in, leaving a crown in the hole so that water stays away as much as possible.”

The asphalt used to fill the potholes – usually called cold mix and made with kerosene that stays pliable enough to later remove – is a Band-Aid repair and can only be used if the conditions are just right.




“Potholes are like putting out fires for us – we get to them as they come up and as they’re reported to us,” said Scott Rogers, street superintendent for the city of South Lake Tahoe. “During the wet times they’re very hard to deal with because you need pretty dry conditions to get adequate adhesion.”

It’s a two-step process, Rogers explained. The preliminary repair, using the cold mix, is made to eliminate any immediate hazard and prevent further erosion. Come summertime, road repair crews dig out the temporary asphalt, treat the base layer of the road, and fill the hole with permanent asphalt.

Caltrans crews, rushing to fill potholes along U.S. Highway 50 before the roads became wet again, could be seen Thursday carrying brown paper sacks of asphalt and filling individual holes by hand.

“It’s taken us a long time to find a bagged (asphalt) that works and can stand up to the conditions we face up here,” Carlson said. “We buy it in train-car loads from Maryland.”

Beside the obvious damage to the roads, potholes are also detrimental to cars. Drivers, when they cannot avoid potholes, subject their vehicles to violent treatment.

“There is probably little to no damage for the frame of the car,” said Kelly Rosser, owner of South Side Auto Body. “It’s your steering and alignment settings that will be affected, your car will start pulling in one direction as you drive.”

Rosser recommends drivers get the alignment checked on their cars at the end of every winter, if not more frequently. The most serious damage from potholes is on the tires. “Hitting a pothole hard knocks the alignment which in turn wears your tires. It’s also hard on the whole suspension, it makes it weaker and wears parts out,” said Bob Elliott, store manager at Ken’s Tire Center. “The first thing to do is avoid potholes. The second thing to do, after they start fixing the roads, is to check the alignment.”

The life expectancy of a tire, usually about 30,000 miles, can be reduced down to approximately 6,000 miles, according to Rosser.

Douglas County roads are not seriously affected by the freeze and thaw action because U.S. Highway 50 and Kingsbury Grade were re-surfaced during the summer.

“Our roads are in good condition because we just paved,” said Scott Magruder, spokesperson for the Nevada Department of Transportation. “We’re actually pretty lucky.”


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