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RoadPatchers: Waging War Against Potholes

Although it’s not spring yet, MTA Bridges and Tunnels is already hard at work waging war against potholes, and the main weapons in the agency’s arsenal are a couple of odd-looking pieces of equipment called RoadPatchers.

The beauty of the RoadPatcher is the ease and speed that it can conquer smaller, pesky potholes. Bridges and Tunnels has two of the unusual-looking trucks that have an articulated arm that looks a bit like a mechanical elephant’s trunk.

Using a repair method called spray-injection patching, the self-contained RoadPatcher can fill up to 100 potholes in an eight-hour shift. The operator first cleans out the pothole with a blast of high-powered air and then fills it with a mixture of hot emulsion, asphalt and stone aggregate. This single person operation is done without the driver ever needing to leave the truck. Once the pothole is filled, motorists can immediately drive on it. Click here to see RoadPatcher in action.

The repair season doesn’t usually start until March but repeated freeze and thaw cycles have resulted in an earlier-than-usual crop of potholes. “We are always aggressive in dealing with potholes and try to the work during off-peak and overnight hours to minimize the impact to traffic,” said Acting Chief Maintenance Officer Victor Cardella.

Potholes occur when water and snow seeps into concrete and asphalt, solidifies and expands, causing cracks that continue to widen as vehicles travel over them.

More substantial potholes are handled by teams of workers called Hot Box crews, named for the container where the asphalt, which is heated to 180 degrees, is kept. Using shovels and power tools, workers clear loose debris from the potholes, fill it with asphalt, and then a heavy roller is used to smooth and compact the new asphalt.

In 2013, Bridges and Tunnels filled more than 3,000 potholes along the 145 miles of bridge and tunnel roadways, approaches, ramps and toll plazas, using 13.36 tons of asphalt.