Company bills machine as better pothole patcher

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Build a better mousetrap, the old saw has it, and the world will beat a path to your door.

But build a better pothole patcher? Not so much.

With road crews heaving tons of cold patch asphalt into this season's epidemic level of craters, a Pennsylvania company has yet to attract many buyers for a machine that delivers a hot mixture that promises a more lasting repair.

RoadMixer essentially is a small asphalt plant mounted on a truck. Hot Mix Mobile LLC, based in Lebanon County, has sold three of the machines to overseas interests but has not yet landed a customer in the state, despite the sorry condition of its roads.

"There's plenty of interest," said Quinn Gable, operations manager for the company. "Everybody's keeping a close eye on their pocketbooks."

With the truck that it's mounted on, the machine costs about $300,000. If a buyer has its own truck to repurpose, that cuts the cost to about $200,000, said Mr. Gable, a Pittsburgh native who grew up in Morningside.

The company has demonstrated the RoadMixer for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation's local district and for other municipal road bosses in the state but so far has sold three units, one that went to Liberia and two bound for London, England, Mr. Gable said.

Pittsburgh is in the midst of the season's second pothole-fixing blitz after freezing and thawing trashed many of its streets. It is using cold patch that Mayor Bill Peduto acknowledged would not last beyond the next onslaught of freezing weather.

Crews have put down more than 360 tons of cold patch this week and will continue the blitz today, joined by six street sweepers that will clean debris from curbsides, mayoral spokesman Timothy McNulty said.

Mr. Gable's touting of the RoadMixer on Twitter caught Mr. Peduto's eye, and he forwarded a link to his operations manager, Guy Costa, but there is no serious discussion about buying one, Mr. McNulty said.

The price is "off the charts for us right now," Mr. Costa said.

Another complication, Mr. Gable said, is that his father, Mike Gable, is the city's public works director. "We'd have to get around the conflict-of-interest thing," he said.

He thinks the machine would be more cost-effective for the city than building an asphalt plant in a joint venture with Allegheny County, as Mr. Peduto has suggested. "We took a multimillion-dollar asphalt plant and compressed it onto a truck."

The truck has hoppers for sand or other aggregate, stones and liquid asphalt. It mixes and delivers 300- to 330-degree asphalt through a chute on the back. Only one road crew member is needed to operate it. "If you can drive a truck and push a button, you can make asphalt all day," Mr. Gable said.

Private asphalt plants shut down for the winter because of insufficient demand -- the state and municipalities don't pave roads during cold weather. That leaves road crews to rely on cold patch, a temporary fix that sometimes lasts only a few hours.

Another device that delivers a hot patch, called the Pothole Killer, has gotten some local use in recent years, but PennDOT District 11 is not currently using it, spokesman Steve Cowan said. Nor is it considering purchase of a RoadMixer.

Hot Mix Mobile will display its machine at an international trade show for the construction industry that takes place next month in Las Vegas.

Mr. Gable, who said he has worked on the project for six years, remains optimistic that it will catch on.

"Everybody we talk to says it's a great idea," he said. "We think so, too, or we wouldn't have invested $1.5 million in it so far."

Jon Schmitz: or 412-263-1868. Visit the PG's transportation blog, The Roundabout, at Twitter: @pgtraffic.

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