Tonawanda News

January 31, 2014

Potholes in bloom across WNY

By Michael Regan
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Sections of Oliver Street in North Tonawanda have a slew of gaping holes, the Erie County-controlled Colvin Boulevard has as many divots as vehicles and a portion of Niagara Street in the City of Tonawanda has been skinned down to the bricks. 

Bitterly cold temperatures followed by sporadic days of warmer weather — along with the steady rumble of plow and salt trucks — have taken their toll this winter.

As the calendar turns over to February one thing is certain: Potholes are the only things blooming around here anytime soon.

The good news, though, is a predicted thawing out will give public works employees a chance to attend to the region’s ailing streets at least in the short term, as meteorologists predict there will be a slight increase in temperatures in the coming days. 

North Tonawanda Department of Public Works Supervisor Brad Rowles said the city has seen nearly 90 inches of snow this winter, more than three times the amount all last year. 

And while the focus has been centered on salting and clearing roadways, and dealing with high winds and fluctuating temperatures, this week will likely be time for a patch job.

County crews and local municipal workers are already out in full force, with cold patch treatments laid down street by street as a temporary measure. National Weather Service Meteorologist Aaron Reynolds sad there will only be a slight window for work to be conducted, with temperatures possibly dropping again by Wednesday. 

“We’re doing the best we can,” said Tom Jones, a general foreman with the Town of Tonawanda Highway Department. “The weather just hasn’t been on our side this year between the freeze, the thaws and the floods. We have our plate full with what mother nature has given us.” 

Overtime hours have swelled and salt supplies have dwindled among DPW and highway departments in the area, with an almost constant barrage of snow and regular high winds causing drifting, meaning even when it isn’t snowing, plows are still needed. 

“We’re tracking overtime, salt usage, fuel usage,” said Erie County Director of Engineering Charles A. Sickler, who said cold patch crews will be prevalent on county roads in the coming weeks, including portions of the Tonawandas such as Colvin Boulevard. “[From] this year [to] last, just in salt, we’ve spent almost a quarter million dollars more.” 

Joseph Warthling, superintendent of the City of Tonawanda DPW, said his outfit started the winter with a “salt surplus” while crews have twice patched Delaware Street, one of the city’s main thoroughfares.

“Our overtime is up considerably. Our salt budget is going to be a lot higher than in the past,” he said. “We haven’t had a big chance to get our pothole crew out because the roads have been covered. The cold patch works but it won’t hold through the freeze and thaw.” 

And with several months of winter left, the worst may still be yet to come where streets are concerned. Sickler and Rowles both emphasized that when a permanent spring that begins the sub-base below the paved roads will shift, causing the pavement to flex yet again. 

“It’s going to get worse, unfortunately,” Sickler said. “Right now it’s almost like concrete.” 

Rowles said despite the “old-fashioned winter” he believes he will be able to hold the line on budget costs, with many of the heaviest snow days falling prior to his new-year portfolio of Jan. 1, while the obvious damage to area roads may be wrapped into the city’s summer road repair list, with nearly $1 million earmarked for paving. 

“We’ll put a list together and the mayor and the council will go out and review the roads,” he said. “We’re going to begin paving earlier than usual because we had a bad [winter]. We’re ready to roll.”