TRENTON — Recent heavy rainfall and a freeze/thaw cycle has forced the state Department of Transportation to start the pothole season early.

A special project was already started Thursday night on one of the worst highways for potholes: Route 78 from mile maker 29 in Bridgewater to 42 in Warren Township. Two lanes will be closed westbound on Friday night starting at 9 p.m. until 5 p.m. on Saturday.

There's some areas of Route 78 westbound that need more than filling a pothole, according to DOT spokesman Steve Shapiro, but they need a larger permanent patch.

"When you drive the highway and you see a square that is clearly newer pavement than the rest of the highway, that's a permanent patch."

The cycle of heavy rain and freezing temperatures overnight makes for perfect conditions as the water gets into the cracks and freezes and expands and deteriorates the pavement, according to Schapiro, who said it's the earliest he's ever seen the campaign start.

The pothole filling campaign gets started statewide on Monday, according to Schapiro, with crews fanning out to take care of the worst problems on the most traveled interstates with higher speeds and higher volumes getting the most attention. "We'll be doing those interstates and larger state highways first but whenever they're needed the crews will be out there," Schapiro said.

It's a combination of input from the commuting public and observations from the road crews who are out every day as to where the 13 "Pothole Killer" machines are sent.

"The road is their office and they monitor road conditions and report where the potholes are.  State Police report potholes. We do rely on the public, as well. That's really important, folks calling in potholes when they see them. That helps us know where they are," Schapiro said.

Be prepared to slow down if you come upon a repair crew.

"That's something we can't stress enough. Give them enough space to work" and be on the lookout for the "bump truck" that is positioned behind the crew helping set up the safety equipment and protecting the workers.  It's a moving operation and can be in any lane," Schapiro said.

Drivers can call 1-800-POTHOLE (768-4653) or on the DOT website. Schapiro said that drivers should try to note what direction and a nearby milepost or an exit when they report a pothole so it can easily located.

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