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Ice Jams, Flooding and Potholes All Signal Shift from Winter to Spring

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Ice jams on the Cedar River, minor street flooding in Cedar Rapids and an explosion of pothole complaints. It might sound like a variety of very different issues, but the Cedar Rapids Streets Department says there is a connection. And that connection is really the clash of seasons as winter starts to give way to spring.

Over the weekend, Cedar Rapids street crews thought they might have to go back to plowing as the forecast originally called for the possibility of snow. But that forecast changed to rain and six crews got returned to "pothole patrol" duties Monday morning. Mike Duffy, Cedar Rapids Street Operations Supervisor, said potholes are a byproduct of the freeze/thaw cycle that prevails every Iowa winter. Last year's drier, and more moderate winter, didn't produce as many potholes on city streets. But Duffy said that was the exception and not the rule. And drivers who think potholes are really out of control are probably just forgetting what results from a more normal winter.

"It's a normal spring and we're dealing with the things we normally deal with this time of year," Duffy said.

Duffy said the city got 23 complaint calls about potholes during the entire month of February. Crews used 140 tons of patching mix to try to solve the issues. In the first ten days of March, the city had 31 calls about potholes and used 68 tons of patching material. March is typically the peak time for potholes, and Duffy said so far this seems to be holding true.

Also normal, he said, is the ice breaking up on the Cedar River and jamming up in large blocks. That happened Monday morning in the area around Ellis Park and quickly led to water backing up behind the ice. The city closed several low-lying streets because water was flowing over the roadway. The closings included Bowling Street S.W., J Avenue S.W. and Ellis Lane N.W.

The water from an overflowing Prairie Creek drained into a parking lot of an industrial area along J Avenue S.W. Dean Melsha, an employee of Bunch Company, said until the water gets near the warehouse buildings workers just tend to ignore it.

"It doesn't happen every year and we just deal with it when it comes, " Melsha said.

The ice jammed up on the river just west of downtown Cedar Rapids also drew an off and on crowd to gawk. One noon hour watcher was Mike Bohner who agreed he liked last winter better. But Bohner said he really couldn't complain about what was happening now.

"I didn't miss it at all, it was nice to have a warmer winter. But this is normal for Iowa," he said.

While there is a change-of-season connection between ice jams on rivers and potholes on streets, the problems aren't the same in one sense. The ice jams and minor flooding behind it will disappear quickly. While street crews will chase after potholes for weeks.

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