N.J. leases ‘Pothole Killer’ trucks that fill in road craters in 30 to 90 seconds
Published: Friday, April 15, 2011, 6:20 AM Updated: Friday, April 15, 2011, 12:53 PM
PARSIPPANY — They are called the “Pothole Killers.”
That’s the nickname for a fleet of trucks that can fix head-jolting cracks, crevices and craters in less time than it takes for a traffic light to change. And they’ve arrived in New Jersey to do some massive road repairs — just in time for pothole season.
With spring weather uncovering pockmarked roadways across New Jersey, officials will announce today that the state Department of Transportation has signed a $337,000 contract to lease six Pothole Killer trucks to hit the roads through the summer.
Traditionally, pothole work requires a crew of four or five workers and can take 15 to 30 minutes per repair. With the Pothole Killer trucks, officials said, one operator can use a joystick-controlled nozzle to mend a pothole in just 30 to 90 seconds — without ever leaving the driver’s seat.
“It takes just one man to do this, and he can do up to 250 potholes a day,” said inventor Scott Kleiger, who is also chief operating officer of Patch Management in Fairless Hills, Pa., the company that is leasing the trucks.
It’s a godsend for state transportation officials, who say the nasty weather this past winter has left them with even more pothole problems than last year.
Between January and March, motorists reported more than 4,200 potholes to the DOT, up from 2,200 during the same period last year. The department predicts it will fill 190,000 potholes for the year ending in June, up from 147,000 last year.
“This was a really rough winter for our roads,” DOT spokesman Joe Dee said. “All the cold temperatures and snow and ice and plows we had to use … the road surface really does take a beating.”
Because of the increase in the number of potholes, state spending for repairs is expected to reach $2.1 million this year, compared to $1.9 million last year, Dee said.
Repairs by the Pothole Killer trucks generally cost less per pothole, but the DOT will continue to use the trucks as well as existing crews to fix potholes because some repairs require manual preparation, Dee said.
Another advantage of using the technology is highway safety. Traditional methods of filling potholes require larger work zones because workers are essentially laboring right alongside traffic, Dee said.
In New Jersey, there are about 6,200 construction zone crashes every year, leading to 2,200 injuries and 15 fatalities, he said. “These machines enhance worker safety because workers aren’t on the ground,” he said.
The speedy repairs also save money for motorists. AAA Mid-Atlantic estimates potholes can cause a wide variety of damage — ranging from $50 for a simple wheel alignment to $500 or more for replacing an alloy wheel.
Drivers on Route 46 in Parsippany know the perils. Thursday morning, entire stretches of the right lane were littered with potholes, sending motorists swerving dangerously along the highway.
Enter a Pothole Killers truck, which paused briefly in front of each jagged depression, adjusted the nozzle and began alternately spewing layers of warm asphalt and gravel.
The first pothole, about two feet long and six inches deep, took 97 seconds to fill. It moved on. The second, a shallower pit that extended for a good 10 feet, took only 90 seconds. The third, a 2-foot-long crevice, took 70 seconds. And so on.
Anyone who stopped in the nearby strip mall for a quick errand might have missed the whole thing. Because the potholes are topped with gravel, motorists can immediately drive over the repairs.
The Pothole Killers are not exactly new. New Jersey leased the trucks from the company for several years until 2006, when limited resources meant the state couldn’t afford them anymore, Dee said.
But the technology behind the trucks, invented more than 20 years ago, has improved dramatically during that time. A few years ago, the driver still had to leave the truck to position the valves – a step that added about two minutes to the process, said Craig Baclit, president of Patch Management. Now, he can now control the valves from inside the truck.
But the concept hasn’t taken off until the last few years, said Kleiger, who came up with the idea of a one-man truck as a teenager working in road construction. Five years ago, only a handful of states leased the trucks.
Now, that number has tripled to 17, including California, Ohio, Maryland, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Florida. States can either hire Patch Management operators, or — as in the case of New Jersey — assign their own workers to receive training and operate the trucks.
Patch claims the speed of repairs does not compromise the quality. The truck heats the asphalt to about 150 degrees, which allows it to adhere to the roadway. Traditional hot patch is heated to up to 300 degrees, while cold patch — used mainly in the winter when the weather is cold — is not heated at all.
The state is encouging residents to report potholes online at state.nj.us/transportation.
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