Vail Valley’s pothole season is a big one this year | VailDaily.com

Vail Valley’s pothole season is a big one this year

Crews need warm temperatures, less snowplowing to get out and work

Sinkholes, potholes and rockslides become more likely this time of year, as water freezes and thaws.
Chris Dillmann | cdillmann@vaildaily.com |

By the numbers

150: Potholes in Gypsum repaired between Feb. 19 and April 4.

155: Man hours Gypsum has spent repairing potholes between Feb. 19 and April 4.

3: Minimum crew size used by the Colorado Department of Transportation to repair potholes.

$161.49: Price on eBay for an original equipment alloy wheel for a 2012 Subaru Forester.

EAGLE COUNTY — If you want to see the toll potholes can take on vehicles, spend some time at a tire shop.

At Bill’s Point S tire service in Eagle-Vail, store manager Farrow Hitt said that shop has seen more pothole damage this spring than in the past couple of winters.

The potholes have been “pretty deep and bad,” Hitt said, adding that customers have brought in vehicles with damaged or destroyed wheels, ripped tire sidewalls and other damage.

Holes everywhere

This winter has been the worst pothole season in at least a couple of years due to snowfall and temperatures that have been close to historic averages.

Like rockfalls, potholes are caused in large part by the spring freez/thaw cycle that hits the area every late winter and early spring.

As snow and ice melts, it gets into pavement cracks, making those cracks bigger. In the case of potholes, cars rolling through already-damaged pavement makes the holes bigger.

Limited windows for patching

According to Bob Wilson, of the Colorado Department of Transportation, warmer daytime temperatures are required for the best pavement patches. That’s been possible for a while on a Front Range, but the Vail Valley is only starting to see warm-enough daytime temperatures.

Aside from warmer temperatures, manpower can be a problem. Wilson noted that patch crews often include snowplow drivers.

Warmer temperatures allow CDOT to move people from plow operations to patching operations. But, Wilson said, spring snow or clearing rockfall areas pull personnel away from patching work.

Prioritizing the biggest holes

State crews try to prioritize pothole repair work. The biggest holes in the most-traveled areas are at the top of the list.

Those holes “can become a safety hazard,” Wilson said. Drivers who try to dodge holes can sometimes swerve into other lanes. Sometimes drivers will hit their brakes.

As crews are making priority lists, a big hole in a traffic lane will get a higher spot than holes along a road shoulder.

In addition, Wilson said crews in this area put as much focus as possible on Interstate 70, along with U.S. Highway 6 and U.S. Highway 24.

But fixing any group of potholes is a labor-intensive process. Wilson said the state crew is made up of at least three people.

Opposite ends of the valley

The towns of Gypsum and Eagle in 2017 took over ownership of the 7-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 6 between the two towns. The state paid the towns $12.1 million, the amount estimated for 20 years’ worth of repair and maintenance work. The town of Gypsum got $10.5 million of the payment since most of the highway falls within its boundaries.

In an email, Gypsum Town Manager Jeremy Rietmann said that town puts six-person crews to work on Highway 6 patching. If possible, Eagle County Sheriff’s Deputy Heath Mosness will go to repair sites as an additional safety measure.

Rietmann added that the town spent more than $96,000 in 2018 to repair pavement cracks along the length of the town’s portion of the roadway. That work can keep water out of pavement cracks and help potholes from starting.

But the upper valley sees the bulk of winter weather, and that’s where the bulk of the pavement damage is.

“We’d rather see our customers come in for other reasons — they all come in not happy (with pothole damage),” Hitt said.

That damage can be expensive.

“We had a guy in his early 20s come in — he’d been avoiding (potholes),” Hitt said. “But he swerved to miss a ground squirrel and ended up needing two tires. That was about $370.”

Hitt noted that vehicles with low-profile tires can come in with damaged wheels. If you have 20-inch wheels on your car, you may be more likely to damage both a wheel and a tire with a solid pothole strike.

A customer recently came in with two damaged wheels, Hitt said. “There was one that was cracked and one with a chunk out of it.”

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at smiller@vaildaily.com and 970-748-2930.