Winning the War on Potholes – City of Wichita, Kansas
The City of Wichita, Kansas, has declared war on potholes. While Mother Nature has freeze/thaw, temperature extremes and precipitation cycles in her corner — wreaking havoc year-round on the city’s roads — Wichita now has a new spray injection pothole patcher in its own corner that is helping the city to fight back.
Wichita began its battles with potholes as a trading post on the Chisholm Trail in the 1860s. After it was Incorporated in 1870, the town became a major destination for cattle drives because of its railroad presence. In the 1920s and 1930s, the establishment of aircraft manufacturing companies such as Beechcraft and Cessna helped Wichita become known as “The Air Capital of the World.” And today, it still is a major center of design and manufacturing for the U.S. aircraft industry. With a population of close to 400,000, this city’s residents demand smooth roads for their commutes and daily activities.
“In Wichita, summers are hot and winters are cold, but relatively mild. The challenge is we experience repeated freeze/thaw cycles throughout the winter, often within the same day,” noted Albert Price for the City of Wichita. Those conditions make it tough to keep up with the 60,000 potholes that Wichita repairs along its 5,000-lane-mile network of streets and roads each year. With both high- and low-volume roads, the 150-year-old city sees thousands of vehicles on its roadways every day. Pothole patching is a year-round task, and along with crack sealing and seal coating, makes up the nucleus of Wichita’s daily pavement preservation and road maintenance schedule.
Spray Patching Solution
According to Wichita’s Public Works & Utilities Maintenance Engineer Aaron Henning in a June 1, 2017, media briefing, the city’s traditional method for repairing potholes had included the use of cold-mix asphalt. “That material is pre-mixed, and it is made to sit around for a long time without binding together and becoming hard,” he said. “So, where we use that material, it has a tendency to move around, to shift under traffic…” The result is a short-term pothole repair that lasts only about a year, and which often wastes time and material.
In its search for a quick, durable, affordable and aesthetically acceptable solution, the city’s public works department discovered several years ago that spray injection-type pothole patchers can offer unique benefits for repairs, including a quick, but long-term solution that improves road conditions, increases safety, and cuts down on costs.
Wichita purchased its first spray patcher in 2015. Immediately, the city began to benefit from longer-lasting pothole patches. But the single pothole patcher still had trouble keeping up with the volume of potholes experienced by the city. That’s when the Public Works Department approached nearby Salina, Kansas-based Bergkamp Inc., about a solution.
“We recommended they try our SP5 Spray Injection Pothole Patcher,” said Todd Bigler, Government Sales Manager for Bergkamp. “The SP5 can produce a repair in a matter of minutes — one that will last up to five years or more, as compared to a one-year-or-less lifespan that’s typical of a traditional pothole repair.”
Spray injection is a less invasive patching technique than traditional patching methods, allowing the damaged pavement to be air-blown and repaired in minutes. Bergkamp’s SP Series patchers feature three injectors in the rotating nozzle that guarantee consistent aggregate coverage and high-quality, durable pothole repairs.
With the SP, the operator initially pushes air through the unit’s hose to quickly and thoroughly clean out and dry the hole, and then sprays the damaged area with heated asphalt emulsion. Aggregate of the proper gradation is selected and applied from one of two chambers in the hopper to best match the road characteristics. A homogeneous mixture of asphalt emulsion and aggregate is sprayed into the pothole. Then clean stone is applied as a protective layer to prevent passing vehicles from coming into contact with the asphalt emulsion.
Bigler explained that the city’s public works managers were looking for a pothole patcher that could not only provide a superior patch, but also would increase efficiency and safety for their crews.
Wichita’s managers chose the truck-mounted version of the SP Series, which can be custom-mounted on a conventional or cab-over chassis for optimum utilization of existing fleet vehicles. The unit features a front-mounted boom that provides a working radius of up to 13 feet in front of the truck for crew safety, and which can be operated from inside the cab.
“A big difference between Wichita’s first spray patcher and the SP5 is that the SP5 can be run by a single operator, who can do all of the work from the cab,” Bigler said.
Henning also made this point during the June 2017 media briefing, saying, “It’s very similar to the spray injection patching machine we introduced in 2015, except for one very important difference: This one is operated by a single operator. It’s all controlled within the cab.”
A ‘Hole’ Lot of Success
Wichita took delivery of its SP5 patcher in spring 2017. With a little more than a year under its belt, so to speak, the new pothole patcher has improved the city’s pavement maintenance program dramatically. According to Price, “In general, it has served to reduce the need for repeat patching. It stays in place longer. In particular, it is much less susceptible to rain events. And, it has given us an effective means of patching areas of delaminated thin-lift asphalt surface treatments.”
He continued, “The need for repeat patching (patching the same pothole two or more times) has been dramatically reduced. And with just one operator required, it has helped to free up personnel resources to work on other necessary street repairs.”
Henning echoed that opinion. “We’re very excited about the potential positive impact from this machine. The benefit of the 50-percent reduction in labor requirements is pretty obvious. Less obvious are the advantages the City stands to gain by expanding its use of the spray injection patching process. The process itself is more efficient than other methods – and that will allow the city to achieve higher-quality patches and greater returns on tax dollar investments,” he said.
“It’s very important to the city that the taxpayers of Wichita are pleased with the services provided for them,” said Bigler. “Wichita is a forward-thinking city that is investing in the quality of its roads and streets. The SP5 pothole patcher is proving its worth as the city keeps up with its volume of potholes, and provides significantly better patching quality.”
“Perhaps best of all, with the addition of this single-operator machine, we anticipate the ability to treat or visit proactively, each and every street in Wichita about once every three years,” Henning added.
Supporting Local Industry
As Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell introduced the new Bergkamp SP5 pothole patcher during his June 1, 2017, media briefing, he said, “It’s kind of nice when we can do business with some of our regional folks, and invest those dollars into our regional community. At the same time, we’re buying top-notch equipment that’s going to do a great job.”