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File photo.

Matthew Putney for The Montana Standard

We can only hope the pothole season doesn’t live up to the hype.

“Fair warning: Super big pothole season coming,” Missoula mayor John Engen quipped as an aside at last week’s State of the Community forum. "552-6000, ladies and gentlemen."

Cities across the land face rising road expenses as climate change exacerbates freeze-and-thaw cycles that wreak havoc on asphalt, Ginny Merriam, the city’s communications director, explained.

Still, it’s too early to tell how bad things are going to get on the streets of Missoula in upcoming weeks.

“We’re not really into panic mode yet,” street superintendent Brian Hensel said.

Most of the snow is still up in the mountains, Hensel said. The real outbreak will come when the streets are running with that runoff that then freezes at night.

“We’ve had a few” freezes and thaws, he said. “But they’ve been a day or two here or there. We haven’t had a whole lot of runoff yet.”

Street repair is a year-round task in the street department. But for plowing after snow storms, it’s what keeps his crews busiest.

If it does turn into a spring of super-sized potholes, “we’re fairly well prepared for it,” Hensel said.

This will be the fifth spring with the city’s $189,000 asphalt recycler, after it borrowed one from Bozeman in 2011. The recycler heats up old millings into steaming street patches, a more effective fix than cold patches that didn’t last long and depended on a large supply of asphalt.

“It’s turned out to be a really good move for us,” Hensel said.

A more recent expenditure should help as well. Two new seasonal employees have been hired to spend three months in the fall and three in the spring sealing cracks in the street. With a new machine of its own, the city got a couple of months of crack sealing done before snow fell and will start again around the first of April.

“I expect that will help tremendously (with pothole prevention) as time goes on,” Hensel said.

The mayor offered the city's general number to report a pothole. A different one – the street department's 552-6360 – will actually get you faster to a place to leave your message. There’s also a brown “At Your Service” button on the city’s home page at ci.missoula.mt.us that offers a “Report A Pothole” form to fill out.

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