LACONIA — Mayor Ed Engler on Monday made a plea for patience over a plethora of potholes, but Councilor Bruce Cheney called for quick action about a particularly rough section of Union Avenue.
“I’m not questioning the competency or commitment of the Public Works Department,” Cheney said at the council meeting. “I’m questioning, is there some way of dealing with the problem?”
He was concerned with an area near O’Reilly Auto Parts and VIP Tires, 1033 Union Ave., where an orange barrel was in a large pothole for days, diverting northbound traffic into the center turning lane.
Crews were out early Tuesday repairing this and other potholes on Union Avenue, one of the city’s busiest streets.
A pothole story last week in The Laconia Daily Sun drew numerous Facebook comments, including some from people complaining about Union Avenue.
“I work at Trustworthy and the pothole by VIP claimed two cars on Tuesday, one around 5:30/6 a.m. popped the tire and bent the rim, second one around 4:30 p.m., both tires on the passenger side popped,” Misty MacDonald wrote Monday.
Another woman reported tire damage.
“Had to get my wheel replaced last week!!!” wrote Sarah Lamontagne. “Urgh, maybe I should send the bill to the city!!!”
Still others commented that the roads in Laconia are in worse shape than elsewhere and that the city should make road repair more of a priority.
Engler, in a self-described “rant,” took exception with people who criticize their city for a problem that is prevalent wherever the freeze-thaw cycle opens up holes in the road.
“We all know we live in New Hampshire, this is not Southern California,” he said. “We're going to have difficulty with our roads as everyone does in the northern tier of states all the way from Maine to the Cascade Mountains in Washington.
“The reason I wanted to mention this tonight is that most of the comments that are made and that you read online in this day and age having to do with conditions of roads, are relatively good-natured. They all understand where we live and the times we live in.
“Some, however – and it seems like a growing number every year – are not so good-humored, and people use the occasion of a pothole showing up on their street or a street that they traverse in their daily lives as an excuse to vent their distaste for their own town. I think that is unfortunate and uncalled for.”
He said a civic discussion can be had “without resorting to attacks on the very city we live in and over-the-top descriptions of what a horrible place this is to live because of the condition of certain roads this time of year.”
Engler said Laconia’s roads aren’t worse than roads in neighboring communities and elsewhere.
He said elections are held every two years.
“If you want to double, triple or quadruple the amount of money spent on roads and make a suggestion of where the money would come from, you are more than welcome to do that, and that is the appropriate forum for suggesting policy changes, not attacks on social media,” he said.
He also said people underestimate how much it costs to make big road repairs and noted that roads are perishable, so even newly repaired ones eventually degrade.
Major repairs began Tuesday on a 1-mile section of Union Avenue between Elm Street and Stark Street. The cost of this and another project on Court Street is $5 million.
City Public Works Director Wes Anderson said that when such road repair work is done, enhanced drainage is a big part of the project. This helps prevent water from collecting on the roadway and cuts down on potholes.
Anderson said he was aware of the pothole near the auto parts store, but crews found that patches attempted during cold weather did not last.
“The problem is that water melts uphill and pools in that spot,” he said. “The amount of water getting to that hole is starting to dissipate, so we are going to dig it out today and see what we can do about a more permanent patch.”