Travel would be smoother on local roads if there were a few more killers roaming them.
Pothole Killers, that is.
The machines, developed by an eastern Pennsylvania company, blast a hot mixture of liquid asphalt and stones into potholes, providing a repair that lasts longer than the cold patching typically done by road crews at this time of year.
The death of a pothole
A PennDOT crew uses the "Pothole Killer" to repair a damaged stretch of Route 19 in McCandless. (Video by Jon Schmitz; 3/7/2014)
"It's a nice patch," said Bill Schlott, assistant highway maintenance manager for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, as he supervised a crew on Route 19 in McCandless on Thursday.
While cold patching can come loose in a matter of hours or days, potholes assassinated by the killer will stay dead through May, June or even longer, he said.
That's because the Pothole Killer seals the hole, unlike cold patch, which allows pothole-breeding moisture to penetrate the repair.
PennDOT pays Patch Management Inc. of Fairless Hills, northeast of Philadelphia, an hourly rate for use of the killer. The company was founded in 1998, about six years after one of the co-founders developed his first patcher.
This winter has been so severe and widespread that the local PennDOT district couldn't get its hands on a Pothole Killer until this week.
It has relied instead on cold patch, putting down 297 tons of it in Allegheny County so far. Last year, it used 280 tons for the entire winter season; the year before, 248 tons.
"This year is horrendous, everywhere -- turnpikes, state roads, boroughs," said Bob Sanders, branch supervisor and machine operator for Patch Management, who was at the hydraulic controls of the Pothole Killer on Thursday.
At each hole, the killer blasted hot air from a nozzle at the end of a boom that moves up and down, side to side and in and out for maximum precision. That dries the hole and clears debris. The hole is then coated with liquid asphalt and filled with a mixture of liquid asphalt and stones.
A layer of stones is added at the end, allowing traffic to drive over the patch immediately.
"In a matter of minutes, he's ready to go," said PennDOT spokesman Steve Cowan.
In a couple hours, the crew was able to fill about 30 potholes on the northbound side of Route 19.
It took care of nearly 60 in the southbound lanes on Wednesday afternoon.
"This winter's been so hard on our roads," Mr. Schlott said. "We've got a lot of patching to do."
Mr. Sanders, who hails from Prosperity, Washington County, said he'd been operating the killer in the Philadelphia area since the day after Christmas.
The company's roughly 40 machines have been in constant use since then, as potholes have bedeviled towns throughout the state and the entire Northeast and Midwest.
"This is the best winter for us," he said. "It doesn't make everybody happy but it's great for our business."
Jon Schmitz: firstname.lastname@example.org.