2010-2011 WINTER WEATHER PREDICTIONS FOR NEW ENGLAND: Yankee Ingenuity Fixes Little Potholes Now to Prevent Much Bigger Potholes Later (Part 2 of 2)

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The weather predictions for the first part of the winter of 2010-2011 are coming in. Without question, in New England there will be snow, cold, rain, rain-snow mixes interspersed with fair and warmer days. In Massachusetts, there will be less snow than in Maine – mostly because Maine is bigger and further north. But suffice it to say, with precipitation, snow or rain or sleet come hazardous road conditions – both while the rain, snow and sleet fall and in the aftermath, because of the potholes they leave behind.

The Farmers’ Almanac predicts the first widespread snow mixed with rain and ice sometime between November 4 and 7. More rain and wet snow is predicted for the mountainous areas (Massachusetts Berkshires, New Hampshire White Mountains, Vermont’s Green Mountains), as is typical.

The Old Famer’s Almanac – there are two different farmers’ almanacs – predicts roughly the same conditions at the same time. The U.S. National Weather Service does not provide long-term forecasts.

On average, southern New England (Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island) get about 35 inches of snowfall per year, while the northern and more hilly and mountainous areas (Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine) get up to 100 inches annually. The average temperature, mid-November through the end of March, is 25 degrees Fahrenheit (-3 degrees Celsius).

True Yankees understand all of this, of course. It’s why their outdoors wardrobes and clothing suppliers (LL Bean, et al.) may look the same – lots of plaid, wool and corduroy – but are actually a study in layering. When driving from, say, Northampton, Massachusetts to Providence, Rhode Island, you might go through weather and road condition changes two or three times. If the I-90 toll road is in good condition, cross your fingers the Worcester-Providence Turnpike is too. Hit a bad break in the pavement (thank you, winter potholes) and you’re out there somewhere near Woonsocket changing a flat tire and hoping the wheel rims are ok. And glad you packed a rain slicker to protect you from a salty splash of semis barreling past you.

Leftover potholes

In New England, there is a lot of charm in old things – colonial barns and homes come to mind – which draw tourists from all over the world. But old potholes are not part of the enchantment. They simply are the result of snow, rain and the freeze-thaw cycles. They sometime pop up overnight, but at the same time get old fast.

That’s because potholes have a tendency to grow. What is leftover from 2009, or earlier, is likely bigger today and will get bigger tomorrow and next year. Eventually, untended potholes become impassable roadways.

Of course, in New England there are plenty of solutions at work. Consider how in Boston, there were 8,500 people who downloaded the phone app that allows you to report street problems, such as potholes (Boston Citizens Connect 2.0), directly to the city. That’s 8,500 sets of eyes, combing the highways and byways – last winter the program worked only on Apple iPhones, but the update can be loaded onto Droid and BlackBerry phones and personal computers. So the citizens patrol in Massachusetts will likely double in size in 2011.

An expanded program might have prevented a major traffic tie-up in Medford, Massachusetts back in August, when a single, large pothole created rush hour mayhem on all four northbound lanes of I-93. Crews had to work through the night to repair it in time for the following morning rush hour, which typically carries more than 100,000 vehicles per day. Vibrations from a three-year, resurfacing project fixing on- and off-ramps from I-93 to Somerville and Medford actually led to the opening of potholes on the Valley Street overpass in Medford, tying up traffic on that street the same week.

Summarizing that problem to a reporter from the Boston Globe, Frank Tramontozzi, chief engineer for the Department of Transportation, said “It’s like when your neighbor’s house needs painting and your neighbor doesn’t paint it for 10 years, so instead of it needing painting now, the siding has rotted out.”

Providence, Rhode Island voters certainly have potholes on their minds. At a debate last July among candidates vying for the mayor’s seat, poor pavement was at the center of the conversation, ranking alongside education, city finances and downtown development. Responding to an audience member regarding potholes, the first candidate said it was a symbol of unresponsive government and poor communications between departments. A second candidate emphasized how potholes have been with the city for quite for time, while a third candidate interprets unfixed potholes as a symbol of abuse and corruption.

Pavement repair dollars from the Feds

The federal stimulus dollars are reaching the New England states, and where there is stimulus money, there are road repairs. Several prominent projects include:

  • The resurfacing of VT4A in Fair Haven, Vermont, a $2.6 million grant, as well as a resurfacing of VT25 in Bradford, Corinth, Topsham and Orange, Vermont with a $5.3 million grant.
  • The rehabilitation of roads and parking at SERC, Acadia National Park in Maine, with a grant for $256,000.
  • Highway reconstruction of Route 1A Ellsworth, beginning at the Rabbit Road, extending southeasterly more than 2.5 miles to Old Bangor Road, in Augusta, Maine with a grant of $7.8 million.
  • 4R resurfacing in District 1 of Concord, New Hampshire, with a grant of $3.3 million. Additionally in Concord, a $235,000 grant was awarded to provide a new top surface for the Stone Arch Bridge (which also included shoring up the stone masonry).
  • A particularly aggressive resurfacing, guardrail replacement and bridge rehabilitation (Wilbur Road) is underway in Lincoln, Rhode Island on Route 146. The grant amount is for $10.8 million.
  • Resurfacing of Route 18/28 from Bridgewater Center, Massachusetts to the Middleborough rotary (the intersection with Route 44), as well as drainage improvements, with a grant of $2.8 million.
  • Resurfacing on Route 6 in Yarmouth Port, Massachusetts, from Somerset town line to the Rehoboth town line, including repair of frost heaves and sidewalk reconstruction, for a cost of $4.2 million.
  • Resurfacing and related work on route 24 in Avon and Stoughton, Massachusetts, at a cost of $5.1 million.

Of course, it’s pretty well accepted that many of these “shovel ready” projects that received priority funding in the stimulus program were not quite cleared and contracted for in 2009 or even 2010. But with winter weather on the way – and the near certainty of moisture and freeze/thaw cycles guaranteed to make every pothole larger and deeper – one hopes that Yankee ingenuity on these and hundreds of other road repair grants get those projects up and done in time.