Commuters face rough roads ahead

Cracked Road
A large crack on North Williston Road leads to a sign warning drivers of frost heaves. A cold and icy winter has wreaked havoc on roads statewide.

April 10th, 2014

By Matt Sutkoski
Observer correspondent
Ride ‘em cowboy!
Anyone who has driven along the roads of Williston, or anywhere else in Vermont for that matter, knows the frost heaves and potholes this early spring have wwmade a trip to the corner store feel like a ride on one of those mechanical bulls in a country and western bar.
This bumper crop of frost heaves, some of which might have been big enough to remove actual bumpers from cars, is one of the worst Williston Public Works Director Bruce Hoar has seen.
The good news: The end is near.
A lot of factors conspired to make this early spring rough on our nerves and our cars’ suspension systems, Hoar said. For starters, the rain and the damaging floods that went along with the downpours last summer didn’t do motorists any favors, he said.
All that moisture sat underground soaking the soil, and when winter hit, the moisture froze. Water expands when it freezes. If water has gotten through a crack in the road, then freezes, the ice expands, and pushes the pavement upward, and Voila!, a frost heave is born.
The more water that freezes, the bigger your frost heave. And if there’s lots of water, chances are there’s lots of frost heaves. Which is why a drive down parts of North Williston Road resembles a simulation of a California “Big One” earthquake.
Winter hit early, lasted a long time and was cold, driving frost down deep into the ground, Hoar said. “We think that contributed to a lot of this,” he said.
Sometimes, the frost heaves, and the wintertime freeze/thaw cycle, are enough to break up road pavement, Hoar said. That’s how a pothole is created.
Once a pothole forms, it’s hard to fix until the weather warms up. Road crews use an asphalt called cold patch, which isn’t heated, to temporarily repair a pothole. But cold patch often doesn’t last nearly as long as the regular asphalt you see paving crews use in the summer. So the pothole often forms over and over again.
Plus, if the water and ice are still under the road, the conditions are ripe to re-create potholes.
Asphalt companies don’t operate in the winter, so more durable hot pavement is not available until spring.
Hoar says he knows frost heave and pothole repair might go above budget for the year, but it’s too soon to know by how much.
Already, there’s a bit of budget ary strain from the now blessedly ended winter. Salting to remove ice from Williston streets and roads cost about $10,000 more than planned, Hoar said.
There won’t be any deficit spending, Hoar said. He’ll just find money in the public works budget. Some items in the budget might not have cost as much as expected, or he’ll delay some work to avoid spending during this fiscal year, he said.
Snowfall for the winter was close to normal, but the snow and ice tended to come in almost daily small amounts, Hoar said. Such a weather pattern requires the use of more salt, and more time workers spend on the clock to deal with the problem than if winter had brought just a few bigger snowstorms.
Cars and trucks are showing the effects of all these potholes and frost heaves, said Mark Morey, owner of Williston Automotive on James Brown Drive.
The annual onslaught of cars with blown tires or damaged suspension systems is just beginning, Morey said.
The winter also brought an unusual hazard to motorists, especially in the days after the December ice storm, Morey said. Ice built up on the mud flaps of some vehicles, then let loose, smashing through the fronts of low riding cars. “The ice plowed right through their radiators,” he said. Replacing a radiator can often cost $700 he said.
Morey is also recommending that people not remove their snow tires until after frost heave and pothole season ends. He said it would be a shame to have a new summer tire destroyed in a pothole. Instead, it might be better to sacrifice a slightly worn winter tire to a pothole.
And when will pothole and frost heave season end? Soon, Hoar promises. The weather has abruptly turned warmer. Light, mild rainstorms, like the one that passed through Williston Monday night, tend to draw frost out of the ground to help frost heaves subside.
Then again, the rain worsens mud season on gravel roads.
Still, Hoar thinks the frost heaves and mud pits will pretty much be a bumpy memory by the time May Day rolls around.
The only thing is, state and local road managers might find themselves yelling “May day!” if Congress doesn’t get around to restoring funding to the Federal Highway Trust Fund, which helps pay for road repairs nationwide.
Deputy Vermont Transportation Secretary Sue Minter said many projects could be delayed this summer unless Congress approves the funding.
The town does not, however, maintain state or federal highways, said Public Works administrative assistant Kim Richburg—residents will have to wait for state workers to get to those