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Winter weather challenges Santa Fe pothole fixers

January 6, 2019

It happens every winter. Four or five guys with shovels and a truck of asphalt play a game of whack-a-mole.

It’s this team versus the curse of every Santa Fe driver: potholes that can jar teeth and shred rubber.

In the city’s never-ending fight against weather, age and heavy road usage, Santa Fe has a dedicated crew specifically detailed to make the repairs to its pothole problem, Javier Martinez, director of the city’s Streets and Drainage Maintenance Division, said in a recent interview.

But Martinez acknowledges winter weather — particularly the variety that has affected the area in the past week — makes this time of year more problematic.

“It tends to pick up a little more because you have the freeze-thaw going on and, of course, the moisture getting into the cracks,” Martinez said.

The city’s crew works year-round on 905 miles of paved roads and 40 miles of unpaved roads. These workers also are sometimes pressed into service for snow removal and other projects.

The crew increased from three to four positions in the last fiscal year.

Residents, police officers, firefighters and members of Martinez’s team all send their pothole concerns to the Streets and Drainage Maintenance Division, which also receives references from the city’s Constituent Services Department. Potholes are placed on a list to be filled with a special winter mix until the summer sun allows a longer-lasting solution, Martinez said.

“A lot of it is complaint-driven,” he said. “We are continually trying to catch up, but if they are on their way to one [pothole site] and they see another one that wasn’t on their list, they will take that one at that time.”

In a small area of the city, the crew can fill 10 to 12 potholes in a day, according to Martinez. Most are addressed within two or three days of a report — though, those of the tire-busting variety are usually repaired more quickly.

“If it’s damaging a tire, we want to get those filled as soon as possible,” Martinez said.

The cold-mix asphalt filler used to patch winter potholes is not meant to last forever, he said, “but hopefully they will get us through the winter season, and then we can come back and put in hot mix in the spring or summertime.”

“If we do get a cold, cold spell, all bets are off on that material,” which can’t be used efficiently below 20 degrees, he said.

Another concern: Sometimes, a snowplow will hit a paved-over pothole and the filler will pop out.

The hot mix, which lasts longer, can only be poured when temperatures are at least 40 degrees, said Martinez, whose department has a materials budget of about $40,000.

The city is using an $11 million bond issue from gasoline taxes to repave roads based on their condition and traffic volume, Martinez said. Those funds do not go toward smaller projects, he said. Siringo Road has already been repaved, and Rodeo Road, Paseo de Peralta, Upper Canyon Road, Aqua Fría Street and Siler Road are on the list.

Repaving busy streets “reduces the amount of risk and exposure city employees have with traffic while also creating a better driving surface for users,” Martinez said.

“Our guys are out there, and they know which roadways we are fixing potholes on constantly,” Martinez said. “They know which roadways where the asphalt is deteriorating at a good rate.”

Agua Fría Street, with its high volume of traffic, is being patched a lot, he said.

Not all roads in the city are the city’s responsibility. State roads within the city limits — including St. Michael’s and St. Francis drives, Cerrillos Road, Guadalupe Street, Artist Road and parts of Paseo de Peralta — are the responsibility of the New Mexico Department of Transportation.

Water is the pothole fixer’s worst enemy, and roadway cracks are a precursor to the holes. The division has a crack seal program in which dust and debris is blown out of the cracks, edges are machine-smoothed and the crevices are filled with tar. But Martinez would like to do more of that to lengthen roadway life.

“The worst thing you can get in your pavement is water, and if we can keep that outside our pavements, that will make them last longer and there will be less potholes if we can fill those cracks,” he said.

Report potholes

• To report potholes on city of Santa Fe streets, visit santafenm.gov or call the Constituent Services hotline, 505-955-6949, or the Streets and Drainage Maintenance Division, 505-955-2417.

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