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Patching potholes

Winter work never seems to end

GREENFIELD — On Mountain Road beneath Poet’s Seat Tower, four men wearing bright yellow vests and carrying shovels toss hot asphalt onto the ground as cars speed by along the steep road. Beside them is a pickup with a bed full of frozen cold patch and another truck with a dual-burner asphalt heater.

The crew tosses frozen cold patch from the bed of the pickup into the steaming hot box, which heats the cold patch and makes it easier to use. The crew places the asphalt mix into a pothole, filling it up to the grade of the road. They then top it off with a dusting of sand to prevent the patch from sticking to car tires. Using a hand tamper, one man pounds the temporary patch into place.

It was the 50th day of pothole patching for the four members of the town public works crew and just one stretch of the town’s 120 miles of roadway they are tasked with maintaining for up to five hours a day.

As most passing motorists are on their way to work, the crew — Robert Lenois, Greg Dekoschak, Glen Robinson and Mark Kelleher — have already been working in the cold on snow removal or patching since early morning.

One crew member directs the speeding traffic with a bright orange flag while the other three quickly and efficiently patch up the road.

Potholes form when weather quickly alternates from cold to warm and water runs into existing cracks along roads during the day and freezes overnight. During the cold night, the frozen water expands and creates more cracks and heaves pavement. Heavily traveled roads are more susceptible to potholes.

With the fickle weather this year, it has been an unusually busy pothole season. So far, Greenfield has used 50 tons of cold patch — a mix of stone, asphalt and fiber — which costs $100 per ton. This compares to a total of 10 tons used last year.

Mountain Road takes four tons of cold patch with a $400 price tag. Silver Street, in contrast, typically requires six tons of cold patch.

“This year is terrible,” Lenois shouted as he waved cars along. “I’m sick of patching potholes.”

Patching potholes is only a winter temporary fix. During the summer, the highway crew will put hot asphalt onto the roads.

At 3 p.m., the crew calls it a day. But they will have to do it all over again the next morning. The pesky cracks and dips can develop within an hour or two. And often snowplows pull up the newly patched potholes.

“You know you’ll be doing it again,” said Lenois. “Hopefully, it’ll prevent vehicle damage and accidents from people swerving out of the way.”

Greenfield’s trouble roads include Mountain Road, Colrain Road, Bank Row, Federal Street, Deerfield Street, Wisdom Way, Mill Street and River Street.

The crew patrols the regular trouble areas but also travels to bad spots phoned in by the public or other public works employees, Raskevitz said. If immediate repair to a serious pothole cannot be made, it is barricaded to warn the public, the public works department said.

The number to call is 413-772-1528. A work request form can be found on the town’s website under the Department of Public Works at www.greenfield-ma.gov.

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