FALMOUTH, Maine — It may be difficult to reconcile against the backdrop of this week’s arctic temperatures, but mud season is upon us.
And with the change of seasons comes the annual arrival of potholes.
It has been a tough winter, one that introduced “polar vortex” to the national lexicon and dropped back-to-back-to-back snowstorms on the region. In Falmouth, the persistent need for winter road maintenance — salt, sand and overtime hours — has put the budget $40,000 in the red.
But the full ravages of winter’s might will be revealed later this month when temperatures grow warm in the daytime and creep below freezing at night. That freeze-thaw cycle creates potholes, and Falmouth Public Works Director Jay Reynolds is predicting a bumper crop.
It’s already bad enough, he said.
“This is probably the worst year I’ve seen since I’ve been here,” said the seven-year veteran of the department. “It just seems like this year we’re seeing roads heave and break up where we normally don’t expect it.”
The Public Works Department has already begun patching roads. Beginning in late February and extending into this week, crews have focused their efforts on hundreds of potholes along six miles of roadway that includes U.S. Route 1, Middle Road, Bucknam Road and Gray Road, Reynolds said.
“Those roads get the majority of our traffic and that’s where the potholes are,” he said.
The crews began by marking the trouble spots with pink spray paint, then doubling back to fill the holes with cold-weather patches, which are temporary. Later this year, during the warmer months, those potholes will be filled again with longer-lasting fixes, Reynolds said.
Plowing this year’s heavy snows has contributed somewhat to the potholes, but the true culprit has been the deeply cold air, Reynolds said. The long, unrelenting cold snaps have driven the frost line deeper into the ground than usual.
“When you get warm-ups, that frost starts expanding and contracting with the warm and cold temperatures,” he said. “That creates movement under the pavement and that causes potholes.”
On the bright side, repairing potholes will have little effect on the budget. The work takes place during regular business hours, so overtime pay is not a factor. The cost of the cold patch is “relatively inexpensive,” Reynolds said.
So far, the department has been able to stay on top of the potholes, which has limited the number of complaints, Reynolds said, but he cautions drivers to be patient.
Potholes could continue to crop up over the next six weeks.