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Watch out for potholes

They're baaa-aack.

Watch out for potholes as you're motoring around out there. They are, as Detroit Lakes Streets Superintendent Roy Estes Jr. says, the first sign of spring.

"This is the time of year they happen," he said. "You know spring is here when you plow (snow) in the morning and open storm drains in the afternoon."

Springtime creates those lurking hazards to navigation because of the freeze-thaw cycle: Take cracks in asphalt, add water that freezes and expands each night, throw in some daily pounding by cars and trucks, and you have the perfect recipe for creating potholes.

"We're out there using cold patch kits," Estes said. "We try to keep them patched, same as the county and the state (road workers). Everybody is on pothole duty."

The cold patches are a tar emulsion and rock mix -- the city uses the same stuff as the state highway department -- that serves as temporary filler until conditions improve enough to apply the more permanent hot patches, Estes said.

The hot patches consist of tar heated to 180 or 190 degrees, mixed with granite and rock and sprayed into potholes.

Not surprisingly, potholes are prone to happen on older, more heavily used pavement.

"The more traffic movement you have, the more susceptible to potholes (it is)," Estes said. "Every time you bump in and out, it moves the fine sandy material out and the aggregate kind of deteriorates -- it loses its ability to hold together."

Older blacktop is susceptible because oils evaporate, leaving it weaker and more prone to cracking, which is how potholes get a foothold.

"One of the reasons we sealcoat is to protect that top layer of blacktop," Estes said. The city fell behind on its sealcoating program several years ago, when the state imposed big cuts in Local Government Aid.

"We've had to back off on sealcoating the last three years; it was one of the temporary measures used when the state cut LGA funding," Estes said. The sealcoating program is now back on track, he added.

"We have a plan that focuses on protecting our newer streets," Estes said. "Without sealcoating, their lives will be dramatically shortened."

So there you have it. Next time you hit a pothole, grit your teeth and remember -- like the first robin or the ice coming off the lake, it's a rite of spring.