An annoyance at least, and a costly driving hazard at most: Broken pavement keeps local street crews busy tending hundreds of miles of roads as roller coaster weather brought an early onset to pothole season.
Extreme temperature swings that saw the mercury dip into negative territory and back into the sunny 50s in a matter of days led to the formation of numerous potholes months earlier than usual, forcing patch crews out for cold-weather repairs to hedge against additional damage.
But being mid-winter brings an added twist for cavity fillings as asphalt companies are closed due to cold temperatures.
"It's one of the problems for this time of year when the asphalt plants are shut down," said Keith Todd, Transportation Cabinet spokesman. "The cold mix (asphalt) we use doesn't stick as well as the hot mix, so mid-March is when we can start making headway on potholes when the plants open back up."
Typically it's spring that's known for an abundance of potholes. The cavities form when accumulating moisture seeps into pavement and freezes overnight, causing the material to expand. The expansion bulges pavement, and the pressure of vehicles causes the surface to break and divot.
Such was the case with the extreme freeze-thaw pattern of the previous week, and now road crews are looking to mend surfaces as soon as possible to prevent further damage or enlarging holes should another accumulating winter precipitation event call for snow plows.
Todd said without the hot mix asphalt, filling potholes involves using a blow torch to evaporate moisture from the hole and pouring a cold-mix asphalt into the cavity. The department has looked into adding equipment that will reheat milled asphalt chunks, recycling the particulate for use as a hot-mix solution.
The progressive thaw from harsh, negative temperatures and cold rains brought highway crews out in recent days to scope roads but once the pothole is found, substantial patch work can be hit or miss due to the weather.
"There are cases where we may go back to the same hole every other day for two weeks to get it packed in," Todd said.
"We want everyone to have a nice, smooth ride to and from work. We try to get all we can but sometimes you go through and patch one and by the end of the day it's back."
Perry Mason, supervisor for the McCracken County Road Department, said luckily the county hasn't experienced any major pothole problems thus far. Road crews were out patching minor cavities between Lone Oak and Ragland on Tuesday, and would be monitoring for deteriorating conditions as they went about their work.
Once a pothole is discovered or reported by the public, Mason said, crews will load a standard work truck with asphalt and keep the load inside to prevent freezing before heading out to spread a patch.
"If the public is out there and sees anything, please call us because we have 320 miles of paved roads and it's very hard to drive all of that in a day's time," he said.
Motorists who notice potholes can contact the road department or report the deterioration on the Transportation Cabinet's website at 511.ky.gov or transportation.ky.gov. Todd said to note nearby cross streets to expedite repairs.
Contact Will Pinkston, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8676 or follow @WCPinkston on Twitter.
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