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A busy time for pothole fillers

Potholes have been popping up all over Dakota County this spring. To report potholes on county roads call the county at 651-437-3191 or go online to

This is a busy time of year for Jim Bell. Bell is Dakota County's highway maintenance manager. That means he's the guy in charge of potholes. And with the frequent freezes and thaws that come with the transition from winter to spring, business has been good.

When you've got some 450 miles of county roads to care for, that's a lot of holes to fill.

Bell has had crews running nearly nonstop in the last few months to keep up with the cratered moonscape those paved roads become this time of year. We talked with him this week about what it takes to keep county roads as smooth as possible.

I've heard a few places this has been a particularly bad spring. Has that been the case in Dakota County?

It's probably been at least as bad or maybe a little worse than most years because of the wet snow we've had.

Is that what does it? Is it the amount of snow? The type of snow?

The type of snow. Wet snow and rain kind of take a toll on the potholes. And then you get the freeze and thaw. The water gets down in the holes and cracks and freezes and thaws and freezes and that's kind of what pushes the asphalt out.

You say it's been as bad as you've seen in a while. How do you measure that? Just the number of complaints, or what you see around the county?

Kind of both. We do have a complaint system. People can either e-mail or call in and let us know there are holes, which they do. I'm the county maintenance superintendent, so if I have a work request for a hole, we try to get out and get it hopefully the same day, but for sure the next day. If we're already out and doing different activities on the day we get the request we'll do it the next day.

Is it mostly from requests? Or is it things county people see as they're driving around, too?

If we're not getting any snow events or ice events this time of year, we do go out and go over all the roads, all of our asphalt roads with the exception of the ones that have been recently overlaid. We know we're not going to have potholing problems with those. But we take care of the holes that we get complaints on as needed, or as they get called in or e-mailed in

When you're going out and fixing these potholes people are complaining about, how long term a fix is it?

That depends on the weather. This time of year when the frost is not out of the ground, if we're using a cold mix it doesn't last long. If we have any moisture, basically they get knocked out pretty rapidly. The hot mix, we are getting hot mix from the city of St. Paul. They have their own plant. We are getting hot mix from that now. Those do stay a lot better.

Do you have a sense of how many potholes you've filled, or how often you're going out this spring?

I don't have any ideas about how many holes. We patch all year long. We patch during the winter, but obviously during the spring its worse. We go out and we get the larger holes and cover everything. Then we'll go back -- we're in the process of doing that right now -- and get the smaller holes. But we want to get the ones that, if someone hits them, it's going to damage a wheel or a tire. We've had patching crews out probably for the last three weeks straight.

Is that something you can budget for, or do you just hope for the best?

We have an asphalt budget. That's for the whole year. That kind of depends. If we use more cold mix than hot mix, cold mix is more expensive. We're paying $110 a ton for cold mix. Through the city of St. Paul right now we're paying, I think its $71 a ton for hot mix. Once the asphalt plants fire up it will probably range from $55 to $60 a ton. We normally have money in our budget to take care of any potholes.

It's keeping you busy anyway.

It is.

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

(651) 460-6606