New Jersey Begins Its Annual Attack on All Those Winter Potholes

Despite the mild winter, roadways have taken a beating in recent months. DOT officials say they’re ready to repair the damage
A handful of New Jersey’s potholes that are ready to be repaired

The annual ramp-up of efforts to eradicate the latest crop of potholes from New Jersey’s roadways is now underway, officials at the state Department of Transportation announced earlier this month.

Despite a relatively quiet — and cost-saving — winter season for DOT, road crews are turning their full attention to the countless potholes that have emerged on state roadways.

Pothole repair is a year-round task for DOT, but the busy season for road-mending begins when the temperatures start to warm up, said spokesman Stephen Schapiro. And while a relatively warm winter resulted in the agency not having to spend as much money on things like road salt and brine to keep roadways clear from snow and ice, that doesn’t mean the roadways didn’t take a beating over the last several months.

“We have experienced a significant amount of rain and freezing rain,” Schapiro said. “When combined with the fluctuating temperatures, it has resulted in many potholes on state highways.”

In some cases, travel lanes on the roadways the DOT maintains could be closed during daytime hours to allow for the repairs, although efforts will be made to limit disruptions during peak travel times, according to DOT. The roadwork is being conducted between the hours of 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. when possible. More extensive work during overnight hours will start as the weather begins to warm so crews can address “particularly problematic sections of roadway,” the agency said.

Total annual state spending on pothole repairs has averaged nearly $2.4 million during the last five state fiscal years, which run from July 1 to June 30. The average number of potholes that has needed to be repaired between fiscal years 2015 and 2019 was 218,000 annually, the agency said.

So far in fiscal year 2020, the state has spent an estimated $864,000 on pothole repairs heading into the busiest season for such activities, mending more than 113,000 potholes, which is slightly behind the pace of the previous winter season, DOT said.

You can call the pothole hotline

To help guide this year’s seasonal ramp-up of repairs, Schapiro highlighted ways that motorists can report trouble spots directly to DOT for the more than 2,000 miles of roadway his agency maintains. They include calling the state’s 1-800-POTHOLE hotline and logging on to its Pothole Highway Maintenance Reporting page. Motorists can also report problem areas on county roads.

Throughout the pothole repair work, DOT is encouraging motorists to drive slowly through work zones. They are also being reminded that New Jersey has a “Move Over” law, which requires motorists to change lanes if it is safe to do so when they approach an emergency or service vehicle that is stopped on the side of the road.

But even though a warmer winter hasn’t stopped the annual freeze-thaw cycles that cause potholes to form, it has helped the state save some money on salt, brine and other treatments the DOT uses to keep roads safe during the winter months.

So far this winter, the state has spent nearly $40 million on “winter operations,” according to Schapiro. There were 25 “winter events” between Nov. 1 and March 1, resulting in the use of 125,000 tons of salt, 271,000 gallons of brine, and 247,000 gallons of liquid calcium, he said.

“Even though there has not been much snow this winter, there has been a lot of rain and freezing rain, particularly in the north and western parts of the state, requiring our crews to activate,” Schapiro said.

By comparison, last year saw 44 winter events that required the use of significantly more road-treatment material and a total of $95 million in spending on winter operations. The DOT used 284,000 tons of salt, 1.9 million gallons of brine, and 614,000 gallons of liquid calcium during the 2018-2019 winter season, Schapiro said.

Treasury officials recently said that a supplemental spending request is in the works for the current fiscal year since the state generally only budgets around $10 million annually for winter operations and then allocates additional funding whenever that initial allowance is surpassed.