Climatic changes impact potholes on Long Island

By Arielle Noren

The first 311 call center in a Suffolk County that lets residents report non-emergency concerns like potholes will launch in Hauppauge later in May.

Potholes on Long Island have been an ongoing issue affecting residents in every town and county across New York State. The increase in potholes dents the paychecks of residents through car repairs, increased fuel consumption, increased tire wear and vehicle depreciation.  

Out of 290 votes, 41 percent of people voted potholes were worse than usual in 2019,  according to a poll taken by Long Island Business News. 18 percent of people voted potholes are horrible and already lost a tire this year.

“I went through six tires this winter because of the potholes,” Christian Bautista, a Brentwood resident, said. “I had to get my axles replaced because of the horrible road conditions and lack of awareness from the town of Islip.”

Mechanics and auto shops inspect vehicles for these issues especially towards the end of the winter season.

“Mid-winter and spring is when we see this occurring the most,” Mike Smith, owner of Automotive Center Long Island, said. “If the tire and the rim gets damaged, the rims will range from $80 bucks to $750 in change.”

A National Transportation Research Group (TRIP) estimates that roads in need of improvements will cost drivers an average of $600 per year, on top of required maintenance. Across the United States, this will cost drivers $130 billion dollars annually.

“This winter was devastating to roadways,” Daniel Losquadro, Superintendent of Brookhaven Highways, said. “Not just locally, but roadways all across Long Island,”

With the changing climate, Long Island has experienced rising temperatures, increased precipitation and increased flooding. Sea levels are influenced by many factors, including regional climate and change in weather patterns,  according to the Long Island Sound Study. The slightest change in water temperature will cause sea levels to rise and cause more flooding in vulnerable areas like the north and south shores on Long Island.

Global average sea levels are expected to continue to rise by at least several inches over the next 15 years and one to four feet by 2100, according to the Fourth National Climate Assessment report. Scientists predict relative sea level rise (SLR) will be higher than the global average on the East and Gulf Coasts of the United States.

“I deal with the effects of climate change every day because sea levels across Long Island have risen,” Michael Marino, an environmental science professor at Molloy College, said. “We’re dealing with repeated flooding conditions on the south shore of Brookhaven that people weren’t experiencing before.”

One example of changing temperatures happened this past winter. During the month of January in Levittown the temperature ranged between 50 and 13 degrees on the same day.

“Freezing and thawing is what is impacting the roads,” Veronica King, the stormwater manager for the Town of Brookhaven, said. “It’s more of a seasonal issue.”

Cold asphalt and hot asphalt are the main ingredients used to repair roads. Cold asphalt can be used at room temperature, during cold months and on wet or dry roads, but it is not as sustainable because it breaks down faster. The presence of excess moisture prevents adhesion between layers of asphalt. Typically, cold asphalt is only used for emergency repairs during the winter because it can be used at any time.

Hot asphalt requires more maintenance because it needs to be heated at 300 degrees for use. It’s what’s traditionally used to fill potholes for more permanent repairs.  

“This winter we found, because of those repeated thaw cycles, hot mix asphalt was actually lasting far less than cold mix because it didn’t have that elasticity,” Losquadro said. “Many repairs this winter had to be done with cold mix so they would last longer through the winter. However, that material does degrade; that’s why this spring you’ve seen highway departments all over out combatting potholes because we’re having to do more permanent repairs with hot mix asphalt.”

In the fiscal year of 2018, the Brookhaven Highway Department spent more than half a million dollars on hot and cold mix materials in the town of Brookhaven. Two years ago, the town of Brookhaven spent over $300,000 on hot and cold mix materials.

“These figures are for the hot mix materials and cold patch materials,” Sam Bifulco, Secretary at Town of Brookhaven Highway Department, said.

A capital five year plan for the Department of Transportation in N.Y. is edging towards the end of its fifth year. The state supports local governments to repair roads and bridges.  

“With deferred maintenance, lack of money, a lot of governments have put off or are no longer in that typical maintenance schedule,” Marc Herbst, Executive Director of Long Island Contractors Association, said. “If they’re not maintained on a regular basis you’ll have more prevalent potholes.”

As the temperature warms up, so do the roads, which means this is prime time for permanent pothole repairs.

“We expect roads to suffer normal wear and tear,” Michael Marino, environmental science professor at Molloy College, said. “But a combination of more frequent violent storms and intense rainfall caused by climate change, and ineffective temporary patching rather than proper fixing, make things worse.”

Arielle Noren

Arielle Noren is a journalist and student at Stony Brook University. She grew up in Ithaca, N.Y., and was born in Kansas City, Missouri.

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