Weather promises pothole bonanza

DOT road crews do their best to keep up with repairs, sanding

Posted: Monday, January 29, 2001

Potholes, usually a harbinger of spring, are blooming early on Kenai Peninsula roads. Like the pussy willows, their untimely appearance traces to the weird, warm weather.

"Anytime the weather changes, our roads blow out," said George Church, district superintendent for the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

Some people assume that the lack of snow has left road maintenance crews twiddling their thumbs.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. The road workers are praying for white stuff just as earnestly as the dog mushers and ski teams, Church said Thursday.

"Plowing snow is a lot easier on everything than this ice," he said.

The top priority for road crews has been sanding slick roads, he said. Once that is done, they can turn their attention to patching potholes.

The recurring freeze-thaw cycles, with lots of water and ice, shatters the pavement's integrity.

The crews have been working long hours with lots of overtime. The bare roads burn up grader blades and are all-around hard on equipment. The usual sand supplies are running out, and the department will have to buy more.

"My budget is shot," Church said.

The area that worries him most is the North Road from Kenai to Nikiski. It is scheduled for a major rebuild, starting this summer. In the meantime, parts of it are 30 years old and so worn the pavement is only half an inch thick in places, he said.

Another spot causing problems is the stretch of the Kenai Spur Highway linking Soldotna and Kenai between Glacier Pontiac and Strawberry Road.

"Every time it rains, people ought to be aware, those areas are probably going to blow out," he said.

Church asked people to be patient with his crew's limited resources.

"We are out there trying to do the best we can with what we have. We hope they understand," he said.

Church has worked on peninsula roads for 30 years and plans to retire in July. From a road maintenance viewpoint, this weather has proven a grand finale of sorts.

"This has actually been the worst winter I can remember," he said.

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