Potholes causing major problems on NJ roads

NEPTUNE, N.J. (AP) - For each pothole that pops up on roads throughout the state, there is a story of automotive angst behind them.

Zehra Kasan said she believes the holes she's had to zig and zag around on her commute from Mount Arlington to Picatinny Arsenal has qualified her to drive in NASCAR races.

"I rather be in a Ferrari on the moon and deal with those craters than on this road," she said of Lake Denmark Road in Rockaway.

Phyllis Nadle of Marlboro nominates the highway exit ramps that no one seems to claim responsibility for fixing.

"The exit ramps off Route 18 are where I see the most potholes," she said.

Amanda Montala of Monroe fears that mystery noise is that her car is making may mean a costly repair bill, thanks to a massive pothole on Texas Road that was too big to avoid.

New Jersey roads have gone from snow to the driver's foe, potholes that range from the tiny thump to the door-rattling, wheel-bending crater. It might be easier to list where there are no potholes.

While state Department of Transportation and New Jersey Turnpike Authority officials said this year's pothole season seems to be an average one, drivers disagree and some experts say it could get worse.

DOT officials said the crews are out there.

"Harsh winters make for busy, spring pothole-filling seasons. Freezing and thawing cycles are the prime cause of potholes. Water gets in cracks and expands when it freezes," said Frances McCrory, DOT spokeswoman. "It's cold today, warm tomorrow."

"It's like a bragging right commuters have in New Jersey," Kasan said. "I'm one of the many commuters on Routes 80 and 10 and have seen my share, but nothing compares to these potholes (on Lake Denmark Road). There is not just one, but more than 20 on this two-mile stretch."

She invited officials to take a ride on it with one condition. "Bring a helmet," she warned.

Whether on a local road or or a state highway, drivers said they haven't been spared from a moon-buggy-like ride.

"It's a slightly above average pothole season. I've seen the most pop up in the last three weeks," said Pat Mostyn of Millstone, who has encountered them on Routes 9 and 33.

He's trying to take an optimistic approach.

"I don't think it will get worse," he said, with a hopeful sound in his voice.

But it could get worse, if the weather turns cold and the fragile fiscal condition of state and local governments hampers repair efforts.

"We're getting complaints about it at AAA, from people asking us to do something about it," said Stephen Rajczyk, manager of government affairs for AAA North Jersey. "There's been a definite increase in the number of people complaining. It comes down to - do towns and the state have the money to fix them?"

Cutbacks in local, county and state budgets could mean that drivers will be living with potholes for longer periods of time than in the past, he said. For drivers, a close encounter of the pothole kind can mean costly front-end, suspension or wheel damage to their vehicles, Rajczyk said.

"They're ruining my car. There's a bad one on Texas Road. You can't avoid it because it's in a bend," said Montala of Monroe. "'It's been there for two weeks."

Montala commutes to New York daily and said she's seen more pothole crews at work there than in New Jersey.

"I usually drive on Route 9 and there are some doozies on that road," she said. "I see the (road repair) trucks in New York, I've seen none in New Jersey."

For now, crews are filling the holes by shoveling in asphalt and compacting it by running that cold patch over with a truck or road roller.

That kind of pothole repair work is like bandaging a wound until more extensive "hot patch" repairs can be done, but that can't happen until the weather warms past freezing nights, experts said.

"You don't want to lay down (hot) asphalt when it's below 45 degrees and falling," said Brian Tobin, engineering research project manager at Rutgers University's Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation. "For now, we're still unsure of when the freeze/thaw cycle will be completed. It's too early to do major reconstruction."

Another complication is that in fixing potholes, no two are alike, he said.

"They have to evaluate the pavement and whether it is a weak spot or whether there's a bigger problem," Tobin said. "Each pothole is different. You don't know what the problems are below in the (road) subsurface."

Also complicating a permanent "hot patch" repair is that most asphalt plants are closed for the winter for repairs and to gear up for construction season, he said.

"March to November is paving season, so the asphalt plants are closed, because once they start running, they are running all the time," Tobin said.

Officials on the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway said they're still counting the number of holes.

"On the Parkway in January, we filled more than 342 potholes. Our maintenance director estimates we probably filled twice that number on the Turnpike," said Tom Feeney, spokesman for the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, which also runs the Parkway. "This winter has been much like last winter - plenty of snow and plenty of thawing and freezing and thawing again. That's a recipe for plenty of pot holes to fix."

The cost to repair potholes is included in the authority's $66.1 million general maintenance budget, he said. But that budget was cut $2 million from 2010.

DOT officials have set up a toll-free hot line at 1-800-POTHOLE and have a form on the NJDOT home page for drivers to report pothole locations, McCrory said.

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Information from: Asbury Park Press, http://www.app.com