As if worrying about the vehicle next to you hitting an icy patch and swerving into your lane is not enough, now is the season when you might expect last second swerves to avoid potholes in the street.
Yes, it’s that time of year again, pothole season, where not every water-filled puddle is a little splash, but more likely a ravenous beast waiting to burst a tire and bend a rim.
For every little thump there is also a hole seemingly the size of the Grand Canyon. If you happen to drive over it, the feeling is like your vehicle bottoming out.
And while you may be cursing every deity or your significant other for placing the pothole of doom in your way, it’s really Mother Nature that is to blame.
A pothole, often called a kettle or chuckhole in other parts of the country, is a disruption in the road surface where a portion of the road material has broken away, leaving a hole, according to Wikipedia.
An article on potholes, while they can form in all climates, accelerates in below freezing conditions when ice and water are present.
“However, potholes are common throughout the world, including in the tropics or other regions where frost typically does not occur,” the article states.
In temperate climates, potholes tend to form most often during rainy spring months when the subgrade has been weakened by the presence of excessive water and consequent sinkholes. Leaking sewer or water pipes may also have contributed to the washing away of the supporting bed of soil or rock on which the road has been laid, in addition to any direct damage to the below-ground structure of the roadway.
According to Ameriprise Insurance, 500,000 claims are filed annually for damage caused by potholes. The New York Department of Transportation fills up to 5,000 potholes each day, and over a two-weekend span in 2011, Los Angeles’s “Operation Pothole” resulted in the filling of 350,000. The average annual cost to repair a pothole-damaged vehicle at $402, and at least $200 million is spent repairing cars damaged by potholes each year.
According to Oneida County Highway Department Supervisor Ben Rich, there isn’t a lot that can be done with the holes in the short-term.
“All week, they’ve been out there patching since the snow stopped,” Rich said last Thursday. “So they’ve been out there for four days.”
Compounding the problem is the patching material is easy to get into the holes ... it just doesn’t stay there. Water or ice in the hole means the patch won’t last.
“We try to dry out the holes to get the water out, but sometimes we can’t get it all,” Rich said. “We even try to run over the patch with the truck tires to force it down into the hole.
“When we go out and patch, it’s just a temporary solution,” he added. “There is nothing permanent about a patch.”
On bad stretches of road, Rich said the prefered method of fixing potholes is to grind the road surface to below the depth of the holes and then laying fresh asphalt over it.
That’s another task that much be completed during the warmer months.
Butch Welch, town of Minocqua public works director, said that right now, the city streets are fine.
“Most of our streets are covered in hard-packed snow and ice,” Welch said. “In about a month, when that is gone and the sun is out a while longer, we’ll start having problems.”
He said the town laid aside a supply of patching material in the fall to make sure they had enough on hand for the spring break-up.
“As soon as it’s feasible, we’ll be out there,” Welch said.
The damage a pothole can do to a vehicle include:
• Tire puncture, damage or wear
• Wheel rim damage
• Premature wear on shocks and struts
• Suspension damage, including broken components
• Steering system misalignment
• Exhaust system damage
• Engine damage
Scott Williams, owner of Minocqua Tire and Auto, said that they are not seeing a lot of damaged tires that can be traced directly to a close encounter of the pothole kind.
“We very rarely see wheel damage from potholes,” Williams said.
He said the damage from a pothole can easily run between $200-$1,000 for just wheel damage.
Craig Farrell, a local State Farm Insurance agent, said he can only think of a couple pothole claims filed in the 15 years he’s been in Minocqua, with the last being several years ago.
“And that was someone down in Chicago,” Farrell said. “The big cities are where the real potholes are at.”
He said when he worked in Milwaukee several years ago, he saw a lot more claims for damage caused by potholes.
“It would be a blown out tire, bent rim and maybe some suspension damage,” he said.
He thinks the pothole problem in the Lakeland area is minor compared to those seen in larger cities.
“Here, everybody knows where they all are,” Farrell said. “That and the towns and counties do a good job of patching them right away.
So it would appear that living in smaller communities has an unseen advantage as our roads are better cared for than in the big cities. Maybe it’s because we don’t have as much traffic and our roads don’t see as much wear and tear.
That might be not much solace when you run over one of the potholes on our area roads, but the good thing is that warmer weather is on the way, and so are better driving conditions.
Jamie Taylor may be reached at email@example.com.