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Watch out for that pothole!
Crews are out patching after extra rough winter
A Hall County work detail patches a pothole on Spainhill Road. The colder and wetter-than-usual winter has caused extra problems for county roads. - photo by Tom Reed


Listen to Jimmy Hightower, Hall County road maintenance superintendent, as he talks about road conditions after a rougher-than-normal winter beating.

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A wetter, colder winter than normal has battered many of Hall County’s roads, leaving ever-widening — or deepening — potholes in its wake.

Relief is on its way, however, as spring brings warmer temperatures and opens up opportunities to do repairs. Crews already have been out this week filling these asphalt cavities, as the 2009-10 winter slowly slips into the history books.

“We do see an increase in potholes when you get cold, cold temps and then it warms back up, especially when you get rain in between,” said Jimmy Hightower, Hall County road maintenance superintendent.

This winter saw temperatures in Gainesville that were nearly 7 degrees colder than last year and rainfall that was nearly 2.5 inches more than last year.

Weather experts have said Georgia has caught the wrath of an El Niño pattern that presents colder and wetter conditions in winter.

“Freeze-thaw” cycles combined with heavy traffic especially have damaged roads.

“What happens is (moisture) gets down between those cracks of the asphalt ... and the road gets cracked up worse than normal (with varying temperatures),” he said. “(Main) roads are usually a little more damaged than (ones in) subdivisions.”

Conditions were particularly worse in the North Georgia mountains.

On Wednesday, the Georgia Department of Transportation reported that a 7-mile stretch of the Richard Russell Scenic Parkway in

White and Union counties needed to be closed because of pavement damage caused by the harsh winter.

“At Hog Pen Gap, this year’s wet, cold winter has damaged the asphalt to the extent that traffic cannot use the roadway at all,” said Todd McDuffie, DOT interim district engineer with the Georgia Department of Transportation.

DOT engineers will assess the damage and develop a repair plan, he added.

“There is currently not a schedule for repair. Asphalt is temperature sensitive, so all repairs must wait until after the season’s final freeze and temperatures are consistently above 50 degrees at Hog Pen Gap,” McDuffie said.

The parkway, or Ga. 348, will be open to traffic to provide White County access to the trailhead at Raven Cliff. Ga. 348 in Union will remain open to traffic from milepost 3.5 to Ga. 80.

At 3,800 feet, Hog Pen Gap rates among one of Georgia’s highest road elevations.

The DOT has spent some $5 million statewide on weather-related chores this winter, with some $1.1 million going to

Gainesville-based District 1, which comprises 21 Northeast Georgia counties.

“That is the most (expenses) of any complete winter season ... that I have numbers for,” said Teri Pope, the DOT’s spokeswoman for District 1.

In recent years, District 1 has spent as much as $555,174 in the 2007-08 winter and as little as $296,940 in 2005-06.

The funds come out of money set aside for maintenance, such as resurfacing roads, which is $300 million statewide and $3 million for District 1, Pope said. The DOT’s overall annual budget is about $1.9 billion.

David Dockery, director of Gainesville Public Works, said his department has a program to patch up holes and has some paving projects planned for this spring.

“We urge anybody who does have a particularly troublesome spot in their neighborhood or on their street to give us a call and make us aware of it,” he said. “Chances are we are already aware of it, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to ... bring our attention to it.”