Kicking Asphalt

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Dan O'Regan, Long Island Business News
March 7, 2014 

One of the worst winters in memory has taken a toll on Long Island's roads - and left one professional group grinning ear-to-ear.

When the last winter storm finally rolls out to sea and warmer weather settles in, public works crews across the region will get busy repairing the minefields of potholes devastating regional roadways. In some of the more dangerous spots, the repair work has already begun, but when the weather turns for good some serious repaving efforts will get underway.

This is good news for Long Island's asphalt suppliers.

Tom Pratt, vice president of Scatt Materials in Bay Shore, noted that roadbeds naturally have cracks in them, perfect for water to seep into and freeze when the temperatures drop - expanding and causing those dreaded potholes.

"When the ice unfreezes, the hole stays there," Pratt said. "When cars and trucks go over it the asphalt, it just pops open and forms a pothole."

And with a high number of freeze-thaw this winter, even though extreme cold makes it more difficult to move and use hot asphalt.

Competitor Jim Haney, general manager of Rason Asphalt in Melville, called 2014 the worst winter he's ever seen, in terms of pothole-repair demand - and one of the best for business. "Consistently, I have the Town of Oyster Bay, Town of Hempstead, Town of North Hempstead and various villages coming in trying to repair potholes," Haney said. "There's not a day they don't miss coming in [for material] to repair potholes."

Already this winter, Rason has dispensed 200 tons of asphalt - every week - just for pothole repair projects, Haney added.

030714b.jpgOyster Bay spokeswoman Marta Kane said the town has already fixed several thousand potholes this winter, but there are more to come. Extreme cold makes it difficult for crews to get out and repair potholes, but town crews have sprung to action whenever the weather has warmed. 

Oyster Bay still has plenty of room in its $50,000 road-repair budget, Kane added, even though during some warm spells it has used up nearly 30 tons of hot asphalt per day.

Of course, as good as business has been for asphalt providers, it's only going to get better. Town of Babylon Public Works Commissioner Tom Stay historically refers to March as "pothole blitz month," and cites an annual goal of smoothing out all town potholes by April 1.

"Once the snow is pretty much wrapped up, potholes become our No. 1 priority," Stay said. "We send out usually up to four hot box trucks a day."

Each of those trucks is assigned a Babylon quadrant, and they keep making their daily runs "until we feel we've gotten most potholes under control," he added.

It's a busy workload, but this year won't be anything new for Babylon public works employees: Between Dec. 1 and Feb. 28, Stay said, his department repaired 400 potholes, even as Mother Nature was digging new ones.

Despite the busywork, Babylon is also under its annual road-repair budget, at least so far. Stay's department has spent $10,500 of its $70,000 repair budget, and should be able to stay on target during the March blitz.

Even if towns are staying within their road-repair budgets, asphalt providers and private repair companies are still racking up impressive sales. Bay Shore-based Dumor Construction has already been contracted this year to repair hundreds of potholes in private parking lots, according to owner Bob Lewis, who said he always gets excited when winter turns wicked.

"When we have a snowy winter, it may be bad for the property owners or the tenants, but the men stay busy," Lewis said. "We make money."

While he hesitates to revel in other people's misery, Haney agreed that a cold and wet winter can be bittersweet - all that terrible weather, he said, means more money coming in the door. "Cold weather and freeze/thaw cycles do help our business, so yes, I get excited," Haney said. "We may not be happy with the cold personally, but in general, it's good for business."

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