Oct 23, 2019

Pothole problems

Angela Salinas / The Collegian

Fresno State students who drive to school in vehicles or bicycles may have experienced the potholed, rutted, cracked and unevenly paved roads on campus. No matter what time of year it is, those who traverse the roads are in for a rough ride.

Potholes can cause significant damage to a car’s suspension system or tires if the driver fails to avoid them. During the rainy months, potholes can fill with water, which often obscures the severity of the pothole to the unsuspecting driver.

Liberal Studies major Daniel Ybarra experienced the severity of hidden road hazards on the way to his morning class.

“I’d hit a huge pothole that I didn’t even see,” Ybarra said. “The car wouldn’t steer right, and even after I had it aligned…it was never the same. I sold it and bought another car.”

Drivers who cannot avoid such hazards often suffer damage to their cars. Damage from a pothole may result in immediate damage like a flat tire, or it may be collective such as a misalignment of the car’s steering.

“We get pothole damage all the time, especially after it starts to rain” said Barry Proxmire, manager of the Sears Auto Center on Blackstone Ave.

“Blown tires and cracked rims are common, and we had one guy pull in with a lowered front end who’d torn the bumper off.” Repairs can cost hundreds of dollars, Proxmire said.

Those who ride bicycles know all too well of the varying street conditions on the Fresno State campus. Riding in the bike path down Barstow Ave. will expose the rider to many cracks in the asphalt, but other streets fair much worse, such as the many cracks, dips, ruts and other unevenness on Jackson Ave. between Barstow and San Ramon Avenues.

Potholes form because asphalt road surfaces eventually crack from the heat and the constant stresses of traffic. These cracks allow rainwater to seep into the underlying dirt and gravel. During cold winter nights, this water freezes and expands. Some of the dirt and gravel is pushed out as a result, leaving a hole when the water eventually melts. Drivers continue to drive over these unseen holes, putting even more stress on the thin asphalt layer covering them.

The City of Fresno’s Street Maintenance Division repairs thousands of potholes every year using everything from a hot patch truck to bagged asphalt and shovels. Priority is given to potholes that affect the most drivers. The rest are dealt with on a first come, first serve basis. Since they cannot find all of the potholes in the city, maintenance workers rely on the public to report potholes whenever they see them.

Besides patching holes, Street Maintenance must sometimes repave entire stretches of road on an already much-depleted budget.
“The city can’t afford to do actual reconstruction of the road, so they’ll opt to put down slurry seal instead,” said Frank Lawter, Street Maintenance Supervisor for the City of Fresno. Slurry seal is a combination of materials that are mixed together with water to create an industrial grade asphalt surfacing. It is economical and quite easy for crews to install.

“Slurry is a minor seal for a little while that holds the glue of the asphalt together,” Lawter said. “It’s not a structural repair, it’s a maintenance repair.”

Measure C, a sales tax initiative passed by Fresno County voters for transportation improvement funding, was partly intended to repair potholes and repave Fresno’s aging streets. But with rising construction and material costs, additional funding will be needed to upgrade Fresno County’s roadways.

One alternative to asphalt roads is concrete. Concrete roads have a longer service life of 40 years, whereas asphalt roads last for just 10 years and cannot withstand harsher weather conditions as well as concrete.

But in the meantime, Fresno State students, and everyone else who travel the roads of Fresno County, will need to hang on tight to the steering wheel in the hope that streets which resemble a Baja racing course won’t force them to keep footing the bill for costly repairs.

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