2010-2011 Winter Weather Predictions for New England: Last Year’s Potholes Get Fixed – Or Get Bigger (Part 1 of 2)

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We are not sure why there are competing farmers in the world of Almanacs, and why neither of them had the good sense to set up their own cable weather channel. Instead of Jim Cantore standing in sideways wind and talking about storm surges during every hurricane, we might have gotten someone losing their John Deere hat while talking about the benefits of rain.

But it is reassuring that year after year, the Farmers’ Almanac and the Old Farmer’s Almanac are still published. And their predictions, when proven true, are highly touted the following year. For the winter of 2010 – 2011, here is what they tell us to look forward to in the Northeast/New England states:

The Farmers’ Almanac: “The eastern third of the country, (New England down to Florida and as far west as the lower Ohio River and Mississippi River Valley), will experience colder-than-normal winter temperatures. Across New England, where relatively balmy temperatures prevailed during the winter of 2009–2010, the upcoming winter will be the equivalent of a cold slap in the face, as we forecast much colder-than-normal temperatures.”

The Old Farmer’s Almanac:Winter will be colder and drier than normal, on average, with below-normal snowfall in New England and above-normal snowfall elsewhere. The coldest periods will be in mid-December, January, and mid-February. The snowiest periods will be in early January and mid- and late February.”

So it seems that winter is actually going to happen this year, and no one can predict for certain exactly how bad it will be. Homeowners might give an extra effort to home winterizing projects (before tax incentives expire at the end of the year). State and local highway departments might find that snowplows and salt will be in less demand with less precipitation.

But one prediction subject to no debate is that potholes tend to coincide with winter. It’s a natural reaction to freeze-thaw cycles. But note: potholes plague the streets of Los Angeles, Miami and Honolulu almost as much as Bangor (Maine), Bristol (Connecticut), Burlington (Vermont) and Brookline (Massachusetts). Culprits in road deterioration include moisture, wear and tear and inattention to repair.

And no one said rain or snow won’t happen this winter in New England. There will be precipitation in Connecticut, flurries in Vermont, gales off of Gloucester (Massachusetts), sleet in New Hampshire and Nor’easters over Rhode Island. It’s really just a question of quantity. That means that pavement deterioration and potholes can happen on Interstate 84, Interstate 87, Interstate 91, Interstate 90, Interstate 95, Interstate 295, Interstate 495 and Route 85, Route 81, Route 8, Route 15, Route 35, Route 7, Route 202, Route 190, Route 197 and … well, you get the picture.

Road problems in Connecticut

These regional weather conditions and their effect on pavement deterioration affect every state equally. But a sampling of news stories in and around Connecticut gives us some idea of how many problems – and how much attention – can accrue on the streets, highways, roads and byways. Here are a few of those stories.

As reported in The Bristol Press, there was controversy in the city’s pothole claims program – or rather, the difficulties residents sometimes experience with it. In the spring of 2010, a city councilor stated publicly that Bristol needed to wait 90 days as a cost-cutting measure before paying on motorists’ vehicle damage claims from rough pavement. A firestorm ensued, with the mayor threatening to toss the councilor off the city’s claims committee, even while the newspaper editorialized about Bristol’s inadequate infrastructure budget.

The newspaper also initiated a function on its website (www.BristolPress.com), where local drivers could posit their thoughts on where the worst potholes were. One poster described a street as an “off-road” experience – given the fact this is the home of sports network ESPN, one can’t help but think there’s an extreme sports reality show in this somewhere.

In Fairfield County, The Hour Online reported that the Norwalk Department of Public Works was unable to hire additional workers last April to satisfy “motorists angry about choppy roadways.”  The city’s mayor noted that permanent paving projects would also be pursued in 2010, but that those would happen later in the year. In Stamford itself, a March storm occupied city crews with tree branch clean up that somewhat delayed their annual pavement rehabilitation program. In February, March and early April, 233 pothole complaints were received and 100 immediately remedied by the city. “Unfortunately, potholes are to some extent an inevitability in this type of climate,” a department of transportation spokesperson said.

With so many potholes in the Northeast, it is with a little bit of irony that one notes a program from The Hartford auto insurance group is helping fix roads in places such as Portland, Oregon and Tucson, Arizona. Which makes sense – car insurance companies bear the brunt of auto damage from rough pavement, which on average is more than $400 per year per car. The company donated cash to cover materials and labor, according to the Arizona Daily Star.  The costs in Portland to help fix some of their potholes was $6,000 (a winning worst pothole is featured at OregonLive.com) – although in most municipalities that’s a drop in the water-filled pothole. The funds needed to fix all of America’s deteriorating pavement is north of $100 billion.

Understandably, motorists are miffed. The comments sections in many of these articles about potholes, throughout the Northeast, suggest an increasing problem that have to provide headaches to departments of highways and transportation. They all are strapped for cash, and yet it is the thing that citizens complain about the most. But this exchange among posters to the Norwalk Hour article shows you can’t win for losing sometimes:

Poster A: Leave the potholes unfilled in the residential neighborhoods. The potholes become a very effective vehicle speed enforcement component in a system that otherwise provides little to no speed enforcement otherwise.

Poster B: Are you suggesting that vehicles swerving violently or sometimes driving on the wrong side of the road to avoid the darn craters is somehow safer?! I’m fed up, personally…they’re out of control!

The 2009 federal stimulus program is at work to help with this, enough that perhaps some segments of streets and highways will be fixed in time for the winter of 2010 – 2011. Here are some such projects from StimulusWatch.org, which tracks the investment of funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009:

  • East Hartford: $2.2 million in a highway infrastructure investment grant, which will go to crack sealing and crack filling on several expressways (Route 8, I-84, I-91, I-95 and I-384).
  • West Hartford: $113,400 to replace five police cruisers in use by the city. Perhaps this is because they have had to chase criminals from West Hartford to East Hartford?
  • Newington: $4.5 million for pavement preservation of CT-8, Main Street Seymour through CT-63 (Naugatuck, Beacon Falls). The city also received an additional $7.9 million to mill and overlay pavement from Buckland Street to Deming Street in Manchester, plus resurfacing of Route 2 (east and westbound) from Colchester to Lebanon.
  • Rocky Hill: $4.7 million for a pavement preservation program on I-91 from West Street to Route 3 (Rocky Hill and Wethersfield), plus $779,000 for milling and overlay pavement from Glastonbury Avenue to just past the bridge over Goff Brook.
  • South Windsor: $1.9 million to mill and overlay about 4,400 feed of Buckland Road, north from the Manchester town line.
  • Windsor: $1.4 million to mill and overlay pavement, plus drainage and curbing from Blue Hills Avenue to Great Pond Drive.
  • Mystic: $905,700 to complete the streetscape improvements in Stonington.

How many of these projects are completed? The website tracking them needs a little bit of updating – but thanks to the media in cities large and small throughout the country, motorists experiencing bad potholes will certainly let local officials know where the roads need some fixing.