Infrastructure

‘Pothole Killer’ Gives Transit Agencies Another Option for Roadway Fixes

Pennsylvania-based Patch Management believes their "Pothole Killer" can repair potholes near permanently. Could this be a solution in states who could use the infrastrucutre band-aid?

by Eric D. Lawrence, Detroit Free Press / April 13, 2018
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(TNS) —With an axle-snapping, rim-splitting, tire-flattening pothole season not yet in the rearview mirror, metro Detroiters might be wondering if there isn't a better way to cure the plague of road craters they dodge on the daily commute.

A Pennsylvania company suggests its "Pothole Killer" might be one answer.

The "Pothole Killer" is one man in a truck, with perhaps an extra vehicle following as a safety buffer and one in front to point out where to patch. In less than two minutes, the company says, its truck can patch a pothole with what has been described by a Virginia Department of Transportation official as a nearly permanent, or at least a longer-lasting, fix than what is standard in many places, including Michigan. Sometimes the road around the patch will fail before the patch itself.

Branco Vlacich, VDOT's state maintenance division administrator, admitted he had his doubts about the system but has seen it in action and is now a believer.

The system is similar to spray-patching done by road agencies in metro Detroit, with some key differences. For instance, the operator or driver never has to leave the truck, using a joystick to control the patching process rather than an operator outside. The machine blows the loose material out of the pothole, sprays emulsion in the hole, pumps in the aggregate and covers it with a dry coat of material, allowing the filled hole to be driven on immediately.

"You don’t have to put boots on ground" or deal with extensive traffic control, said Brian Preski, the company's director of government affairs and marketing. Another plus is how the equipment is flushed with biodegradable materials rather than something polluting like diesel fuel.

And when it's cold, "we’re the only thing you can use except crappy cold patch," according to Preski. The system works in temperatures as low as 10 degrees, although some highway officials have questioned the effectiveness at extremely low temperatures.

The company, Patch Management of Fairless Hills, northeast of Philadelphia, calls the machine the "most advanced spray injection patcher in the industry." It has had contracts for pothole patching up and down the East Coast and west to New Orleans and Cleveland. Preski said the company has a couple of thousands clients, from small operations such as pizza parlors and hardware stores to state departments of transportation.

The allure of a quick and long-lasting patch process is attractive for folks in Michigan. A recent Free Press column that referenced an animated online video promoting a possible pothole repairing machine that could carefully cut out a problem piece of pavement and replace it with a ready-made patch prompted a great deal of interest.

That particular machine has not been developed (Dahir Insaat, the Turkish firm behind the idea is looking for investors, estimating it would cost about $2 million to create), although the point of the Josh Linkner column was really to encourage readers to explore alternative methods to tackling the potholes in their own businesses.

Craig Bryson, a spokesman for the Road Commission for Oakland County, was skeptical when asked his thoughts on the machine in the video, noting the scope of problem potholes in metro Detroit.

"We're filling them as fast as we can," Bryson said. "We just don't have the luxury to surgically repair (every pothole)."

But the road commission is open to exploring new ideas, Bryson said. It had a meeting scheduled this week with a local inventor who claims to have created a similar machine.

The devil, Bryson said, is in the details. Sometimes complex patching machines cost "a fortune to keep on the road."

The road commission, which has a $147-million budget, is trying out something new this year after a successful limited experiment last year, including on Southfield Road between 10 Mile and I-696.

It plans to spend $250,000 on a process that grinds off the top of the pavement in narrow areas and resurfaces it. The work must still go out to bid.

"It's sort of pothole patching on steroids," Bryson said, while noting that the pothole problem is much more extensive than can be fixed by this one method.

Cold patch, where crews shovel an asphalt and gravel mix into the holes, remains the preferred method in Oakland County.

"It lasts better than anything else we have," Bryson said, noting that spray patching is not a silver bullet because it generally works only on more shallow potholes.

Cold patch also is the standard material used on Wayne County roads, although mill and patching and spray patching also are used where appropriate.

"We have our crews out six days a week patching the holes and, on average, they use 240 tons of cold patch a day repairing the road. On average, cold patch costs the county $130 per ton. In 2017, we spent on road maintenance — which includes snow and ice, potholes and other repairs — close to $40 million," according to Whitney Lewis, a spokeswoman for Wayne County's Department of Public Services.

She noted that the county "is always researching and exploring new ways to repair our roads" and that "cost and convenience are always considered with introducing new concepts and techniques."

Whether that might some day include a "Pothole Killer" is unknown, but Preski, the Patch Management official, said the company is continually expanding. Currently, it has 42 trucks in its fleet. The company either leases the trucks to a highway department of offers a contract service, where Patch Management handles the operation.

The general rate is about $250 per hour for contract services, with Patch Management providing the driver, materials and other support. For those who opt to lease the vehicles, the cost is about $16,000 per month, which includes the patching materials. Preski said a typical pothole repair works out to about $15.

Virginia officials noted that this type of spray patching is "typically best-suited for primary and secondary routes due to cost-effectiveness and roadway workers’ safety; the practice is not typically conducted on interstates."

Preski said some transportation departments opt to use the "Pothole Killer" to keep potholes from forming in the first place.

"If you're a public works guy, you'll know where the potholes are going to be," he said. "If you see squares and breaks (in the pavement), that’s where potholes will be in a week or two."

©2018 the Detroit Free Press Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.