As summer warmth melts away the unforgiving chill of the 2013-14 winter season, transportation officials across the country are facing a long, bumpy road in repairing the country’s crumbling, winter-battered infrastructure.
"This past winter was very difficult and has caused a big problem for our roadways,” Michigan Department of Transportation Communications Representative Diane Cross said.
For the 2013-14 season, Detroit was hammered with more than 94 inches of snow, making it the snowiest winter on record.
“The winter impacted Detroit because it was record breaking and required constant snow plowing and salting with road crews working around the clock at times,” she said.
According to Cross, this year has been the ‘worst year ever for potholes’ in Detroit, but paving the roads during a limited construction season is already proving difficult due to lack of funding.
"Construction technically goes on all year, because of planning, but the actual roadwork season typically can run from April to November but is weather dependent.” she said.
Governor Rick Snyder has requested $1.2 billion in gas taxes to address the state’s crumbling infrastructure.
"The road damage attracted our legislature’s attention because we really are in dire need of funding and also long-term funding," Cross said.
However, the $1.2 billion does not include new roads being build, but it does include potholes as part of roadway ‘maintenance.' Resurfacing roads will help reduce the number of potholes, she said.
The money for road resurfacing comes from another budget separate from the department’s maintenance budget.
“The cost of Michigan’s winter maintenance for MDOT state trunkline roads (those beginning with M, I, or U.S.) was approximately $132-135 million,” Cross said. “Again, that is just state roads. Counties and city-townships would have their own costs.”
The largest transportation project currently underway is the repair of a 7-mile stretch of Interstate-96 in Wayne County, Michigan.
“The 96 project has been in the works for years; the freeway closed completely April 7 and is expected to reopen in October,” Cross said.
The roadway houses 37 bridges and has been shut down completely so that road crews can take advantage of the warmer weather and focus entirely on completing the project without having extended safety concerns due to motorists, she said.
While the construction season is slightly longer in Georgia, Atlanta has not been immune to the severity of the winter season, and city officials are also faced with operating with limited time and funds, Atlanta Public Works Spokeswoman Valerie Bell-Smith said.
“We’ve certainly had a very harsh winter,” Bell-Smith said. “Weather conditions always impact the roadways.”
The annual budget is based on a gas tax-fueled grant fund provided through support from the Georgia Department of Transportation. Roadways in Atlanta will be assessed for resurfacing based on age, condition and frequency of use. With an annual budget between $2 million and $3 million, the city is in need of extra funding for road construction but focuses its priorities on areas with heavy volumes of traffic.
“It doesn’t go as far as we would like it to go,” Bell-Smith said. “We resurface roads during the warmer months because of the better weather and the materials compact and form better during warmer weather.”
In Pennsylvania, construction season usually kicks off in the springtime because warmer weather is essential to forming the roadways properly, state Department of Transportation Press Secretary Rich Kirkpatrick said.
“Depends on the weather,” he said. “Hot mix asphalt usually becomes available in April and construction can last into November.”
When working in high heat, roadway workers adhere to extensive safety program guidelines and remain hydrated. In addition to potential hazards to crew members, heat can also impact the roadways.
“There can be cases of concrete pavements buckling in very high heat. The concrete swells and the expansion joints snap,” Kirkpatrick said. “Hot mix asphalt is used for repaving in warmer weather. Concrete cannot cure properly in cold weather, and concrete use is restricted to warmer times of the year.”
A cold patch is used for temporary pothole repairs in winter.
“The tough winter caused pavement issues all across the state,” he said. “Because of the new transportation plan, Act 89, signed by Governor (Tom) Corbett in November, we will do more than 900 road and bridge projects this year; 250 more than would have been possible without the new transportation plan.”
Kirkpatrick said the state does not have a separate budget for summer construction.
“The current budget for highways and bridges is $3.8 billion and the new budget for the fiscal year beginning in July is proposed at $4.4 billion,” he said. “In terms of winter, we had a $189.2 million budget for 2013-14 and, as of April 25, had spent $253.6 million.”
The winter services budget is included in the overall $1.6 billion maintenance budget for this fiscal year. The plan represents an investment of about $2.1 billion, about $600 million more than otherwise would have been available without the new transportation plan, according to Kirkpatrick.
“As for pothole patching, so far this year, we have used more than 38,000 tons of pothole patching material at a cost of $22.4 million,” Kirkpatrick said.
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