Pothole season has arrived early in Portland, thanks to a winter of deep freezes and dramatic warmups.

And when Portland Public Works crews aren’t clearing snow this winter, they’re patching city streets.

“We are about a month ahead,” Keith Emery said Friday as he, Marty Tuttle and Ryan Sullivan prepared to fill a hole on the edge of Warren Avenue beneath the Maine Turnpike.

The gouged, pocked center of the road was hardly better than its edges. That was no surprise to Emery.

“This is one of the ongoing spots,” he said. “One week, it could be Congress Street. One week, it could be Marginal Way.”

Since Sept. 1, the city has recorded 109 complaints about potholes, city spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said Monday. Lately, they arrive in multiples at the city’s Fix It! Portland online site.

Grondin said 10 reports of potholes remained open Monday afternoon.

Closing complaints doesn’t mean the holes closing holes for good, and Public Works Director Chris Branch agreed the season has been early and abundant.

“We’ve had a strong weather year, cold weather followed by warm weather,” Branch said Jan. 24. “Depending on your view, that is the best, or worst, for the creation of potholes.”

The deep freeze of early January receded, leading to days with temperatures above freezing. Melting snow and rain have inundated streets, and water seeped below road surfaces.

Once under the road, if the water freezes, it expands and wreaks havoc on the surface above.

“If you have a lot of freeze/thaw you have more potholes,” Branch said. Road surfaces near manhole covers are especially vulnerable as the seam between the surface and conduit cover can break easily.

The department’s top priority is keeping streets clear after storms, but Branch said as many as five teams can be out working on potholes. Staffing also depends on whether they need a third person like Emery to help with traffic control.

On Jan. 26, Emery, Tuttle and Sullivan worked their way back and forth across the city in two trucks. Tuttle and Sullivan rode in the dump truck toting asphalt, Emery in the pickup with the repair orders.

They had already filled potholes near Pine Tree Shopping Center on Brighton Avenue and would soon be headed to State Street, although Emery suspected those holes had already been repaired.

Priority is based on complaints. City Insurance Claims Administrator Lori Smith said the city can be held liable if it does not respond to a complaint within 24 hours. Data on how many claims the city now faces was not available by Tuesday.

Smith and Grondin recommended the FixIt!Portland site as the most direct way to complain about potholes or other issues, as it is monitored most often. Complaints also can be called into the Public Works number is 874-8493.

Crews can use heated asphalt to fill potholes, but Emery said heating takes all night and requires them to haul around the trailer with the heater. Cold patch is just shoveled in and tamped down.

Repair costs do not strain the department budget like snow removal, which requires more staff overtime hours, Branch said. But pothole patchwork can be a short-term fix.

“It’s hard to patch it and make it stay,” Emery said.

“It is like weeds, you cut them off and they come back,” Branch said. “Once you start patching them they come back.”

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

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