TRAVERSE CITY — Balmy days followed by nose-numbing temperatures.
These back-to-back, thaw-to-freezing cycles are making a big mess of northern Michigan roads, said Bob Cole, public services director for the city of Traverse City.
“You normally see potholes in the spring, but we’ve had four or five springs already this winter,” Cole said. “It drives us absolutely nuts. And the county’s got the same problem. Everyone is facing the same situation. People say, ‘It’s warm. That’s good news.’ Not really.”
The city has pothole repair crews out every day, even when it’s snowing. But patches need a dry surface to stick, so they usually last no more than a couple of days. Not surprisingly, the old roads are most susceptible to potholes because they have more cracks, Cole said.
Cole likens a pothole to a miniature volcano.
“If you could watch the pothole development, it doesn’t take very long,” he said. “Moisture gets in, freezes and heaves and blows the whole thing into a blister. The asphalt gets ripped off by a car going through or a snowplow, and then you’ve got the hole sitting there.”
Stephanie Burns, a city heavy equipment operator, spent a morning this week fixing up Union Street.
“It’s just a mess this year, especially on the roads that are falling apart,” she said.
Union Street and Cass streets, just north of 14th Street, are especially hard hit, along with E. Eighth Street between Woodmere Avenue and Union Street. Even Grandview Parkway is pothole-pocked.
Burns said her patches won’t last long.
“We are putting Band-aids on them until spring when we get the hot asphalt,” she said. “It’s just to keep us safe until we get the real good stuff.”
Drivers seem to employ different strategies to avoid the holes: they either swerve, slow, brake suddenly and risk an accident, or blast through the holes.
Dave Tokie expects some good business from potholes. He’s the service department manager for Jack’s Auto Sales & Service, which is right around the corner from the S. Union Street mess. His own 3/4-ton truck just took a beating from a pothole on eastbound Grandview Parkway near the Farmer’s Market, he said.
“I have a tire shaking on me,” he said.
Potholes can do all kinds of bad things to cars, such as turning a round tire into the shape of an egg. Jarring also can damage the seal of the tire’s sidewall, which could allow water to seep in and destroy the tire bearing.
“Then there’s ball joints and tie rods,” he said. “If they’re weak, it will destroy them faster.”
Potholes naturally lead to street repair discussions. Traverse City spends about $1 million a year and prioritizes streets each year in a lengthy year-long process. Union Street isn’t up for resurfacing and plans for next year are still under discussion. The scheduling for Eighth Street — between Boardman and Woodmere — is more complicated because it’s a corridor, Cole said.
“The planning department is working on a corridor improvement plan,” he said. “It’s under consideration of what we want the street to be when it grows up.”
This year, the city prioritized several streets near Traverse City Central High School, a few gravel streets, Washington Street between Railroad and Barlow, and Wayne Street from Incochee to the city limits — basically on top of Wayne Hill, Cole said.
Several meetings are planned to discuss Front Street, 8th Street, and Garfield Avenue this spring. To weigh in or find out meeting dates about corridor plans, email the Traverse City planning director at firstname.lastname@example.org. Other resurfacing inquiries should go to email@example.com.