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DeKalb officials: Brace for more potholes

Brutal winter, rapid temperature changes pose problems for fixing streets

DeKALB – Eddie Hernandez of the DeKalb Public Works Department was out in the cold, again, Monday afternoon filling potholes along 14th Street. It’s been a rough winter for the public works department, and he said a little appreciation goes a long way.

“Some people will drive by and say, ‘Thanks,’ ” Hernandez said. “That’s always nice to hear.”

Winter is rearing its ugly head again, and city officials are bracing for more pothole problems because of the temperature fluctuations. Temperatures dropped Monday, but will climb back into the 40s by the weekend, putting more stress on roadbeds.

The public works department already lost its leader when former Public Works Director Tim Holdeman was laid off Friday.

Now, others are taking on the responsibilities, including Bryan Faivre, DeKalb’s assistant director of public works, and Andy Raih, who was promoted to superintendent of streets in January. City Manager Bill Nicklas has said that in the absence of city department heads, many employees have agreed to step up.

Nicklas said Monday that he has been meeting with the public works department every week, and residents shouldn’t expect any lapse in service in Holdeman’s absence.

“Unfortunately, this year has been a bad winter, especially in the past month and a half, because of all the snow we were getting and freezing rain,” Faivre said in a phone interview Monday morning. “So to address potholes was very difficult then, because we had our focus so much on fighting snowstorms.”

“There’s a lot of factors that go into it,” said Chris Brantley, a public works employee who was out Monday with Hernandez. “We can’t fill them when there’s ice in the bottom.”

Potholes are caused by the rapid, repeated freezing and then thawing of roads and pavement, Faivre said, which also can affect holes that already have been filled. When the ground thaws and snow melts, moisture gets into the holes again and pops the patching mixture that was used to fill a pothole back out.

“Picture a block of ice pressing against hot asphalt, and you just get the cracks,” Faivre said. “Water will get back underneath the mix, freeze again, and cause it to expand. The mix we put in there will literally explode out.”

DeKalb public works crews have a systematic, three-step approach to addressing potholes, Faivre said.

“Typically, we receive calls from residents about various potholes around town,” Faivre said. “We’ll keep a list of those as phone calls come in. Crews and staff in general will make note of any as well, when we’re out and about. And lastly, we have a systematic approach to fill: We tend to concentrate on the main roads, those that are traveled more often.”

Similar to the snowplow system for prioritizing heavily trafficked roads, Faivre said, crews will begin filling potholes on roads such as Lincoln Highway and Sycamore Road, and then concentrate on residential neighborhoods.

“We call some of them ‘paper-plate potholes,’ because they’re not very deep, and might be more of an annoyance, not a safety factor,” Faivre said.

That doesn’t mean employees don’t address large potholes on side roads quickly, however.

“The ones that are 2 feet in diameter, 6 inches deep, obviously if you get a vehicle going over that, there’s potential for damage,” he said. “So we’ll send crews out almost immediately, if not first thing in the morning.”

Although temperatures were in single digits Monday morning, Faivre said, the public works department had one crew out to address potholes.

Faivre said the crews are made up of three to four employees: one driving the pothole truck, two filling the holes with coat mix and another on hand for safety reasons.

“As the temperatures get warmer here and get a little more sunlight with daylight saving time, that’s going to help matters, especially with this break in the snow action,” Faivre said. “It gives us time to get our crews back together.”

Sycamore Public Works Director Fred Busse did not respond to requests for comment.

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