Hot or cold? Now or later?
The first choice dictates the second as Columbus and Lowndes workers seek to repair city streets and county roads during February’s heavy rainfall.
The rain has meant an explosion in potholes.
“Rain is the issue for two reasons,” said Columbus Public Information Officer Joe Dillon, who responded to The Dispatch’s request for information in the absence of public works director Casey Bush, who has been out of commission due to illness. “First the rain causes the potholes as drivers’ vehicles forced the rain water into the asphalt, which pushes the asphalt apart. When a crack develops, more water gets pushed into the road and the problem grows quickly worse. Second, once the asphalt fails, we need the area to dry so we can make repairs. The repairs don’t work properly in a hole with standing water, since it won’t stick.”
The city’s primary approach to the problem has been wait for drier weather to repair the bigger potholes with its hot-mix asphalt. City workers have used cold-mix asphalt to repair those potholes requiring immediate attention.
Hot mix is generally more durable, but needs dry conditions to apply.
Cold mix, on the other hand, has a greater oil content, which actually repels the water. That allows crews to repair potholes even in wet conditions.
With four days of dry weather last week, city crews tackled the potholes in earnest, using seven crews to apply hot mix to potholes throughout the city, working overtime both Friday and Saturday.
As city workers hit the streets last week, Lowndes County Road Manager Ronnie Burns said his department had already managed to catch up with the work, due to its use of cold-mix repairs.
“We’re pretty much caught up,” Burns said Tuesday. “We’ve been using cold mix, which works better in cold and wet weather, so we’ve been working on the potholes about as fast as we see them. We were using seven or eight trailers of cold mix a day there for a while.”
Burns said the cold-mix is preferable to the hot-mix this time of year.
“Really in the winter, cold mix works better,” Burns said. “It sets up faster. The other thing is that when you have a load of hot mix you have to use it right away. It won’t keep like cold mix. With the cold mix, you don’t have to wait. The oil repels the water and if we have to, we’ll take brooms and push the water out so we can patch the hole.”
Burns said his department will begin using hot mix, which works better where there are multiple holes in close concentration, as the warm weather arrives.
Dillon said the city has prioritized repairs based on city engineer Kevin Stafford’s data, which identifies the most heavily-used streets.
He added not all of the potholes within the city limits are the city’s responsibility.
“Legally, we can’t make repairs on privately-owned property like parking lots and private roads,” Dillon said. “There are also state highways like Highway 45 and Highway 82 that we can’t make repairs on. Those repairs are the responsibility of (Mississippi Department of Transportation).”
Burns, who has worked at the county’s road department for 25 years, the last 12 as roads manager, said the conditions in February were unusual.
“It was as bad as I can ever remember,” he said. “We had two flooding situations in the month. That causes problems. Nothing is harder on roads than water. When you have as much rains as we’ve had, you know you’re going to be busy.”
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is email@example.com.