Prepare for potholes: Motorists may find new obstacle when ice clears

12/09/2013 3:40 PM

12/10/2013 8:24 AM

After nearly five days of dealing with treacherously slick roadways and the bumpy phenomenon known as “cobblestone ice,” North Texas motorists are looking forward to driving on smooth, dry surfaces.

But even after the ice finally melts away — as is expected by Tuesday — motorists may find themselves navigating around another source of bumpy roads.

Potholes.

Icy weather is a common source of potholes. Throughout the year, it’s normal for cracks to form in pavement, allowing water to seep under the surface and form tiny underground pools. During an ice storm, that water can freeze and expand, then eventually thaw and melt — creating a pocket of air that collapses under the weight of car tires.

“After the ice event our crews will drive and evaluate all our roadways, to see what we need to do to maintain the system,” said Texas Department of Transportation spokesman Michael Peters.

He said that whatever damage becomes visible once the ice has thawed will likely be from potholes, and not from any damage caused by road graders brought into service to clear the ice from highways.

“The graders are set to leave about a half-inch above the pavement, to protect the integrity of the roadway,” he said.

Icemageddon

The storm known by some on social media as “icemageddon” also is raising questions about whether some major road projects underway in the Metroplex can continue on pace.

Little to no work has been done the past five or so days on either the $1.4 billion Chisholm Trail Parkway toll road under construction from Interstate 30 near downtown Fort Worth to U.S. 67 in Cleburne, or North Tarrant Express, a $2.5 billion makeover of Loop 820 and Texas 121/183 in Northeast Tarrant County.

The Chisholm Trail Parkway is scheduled to be completed by late June, and North Texas Tollway Authority officials say they plan to open the entire 28-mile corridor all at once.

North Tarrant Express is on schedule to open by June 2015.

Officials from both projects have previously said that some bad-weather days are built into their respective schedules, so missing a few days of work because of a freak late-fall storm shouldn’t be cause for alarm.

“The project has allowances for bad weather, and since we have been blessed with extremely good weather thus far, we are well within our limits and continue on schedule,” said tollway authority spokesman Michael Rey.

“Buckling in the jet stream”

But winter isn’t even here yet. What if Dallas-Fort Worth has even more bad-weather days in late December, January or February?

It’s possible a string of weather events could have scheduling implications for road work, but generally forecasters aren’t expecting that kind of winter.

The Climate Prediction Center show above-normal temperatures and about normal precipitation this winter, said Joe Harris, a National Weather Service meteorologist. But this is is typically the driest time of the year in North Texas — so a normal amount of precipitation usually doesn’t amount to much.

Even so, Harris said another big storm or two is always possible this winter even if its warm for most of the season.

“You might get a big event and go six weeks without anything and then get something again,” Harris said.

This week’s ice storm was caused by a “buckling in the jet stream” that sent Arctic air plunging south toward Texas. Parts of Alaska were warmer than the DFW area this weekend.

“It’s kind of like a roller coaster where you go up that big hill and then come back down with all of that speed,” Harris said. “When you get a buckle in the jet stream, all of that cold air has got to go somewhere.”

Overall, it’s too early to put a price tag on the cost of ice-related damage to Metroplex roads, Peters said.

Generally, about $5 billion a year is spent nationwide repairing cars damaged by potholes, the Independent Insurance Agents of America reports. A typical repair bill averages $350.

Staff Writer Bill Hanna contributed to this report.

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