It’s suddenly spring (meteorological spring, at least), and potholes are popping up all over the place like a bad case of road acne.
Take the left turn lane from Lexington Parkway to westbound Interstate 94 in St. Paul, for example. The pavement is so riddled with impossible-to-miss divots that Emily Grobelny said she is looking at accessing the freeway by using an alternate route.
Gina Vega said Robert Street between Caesar Chavez and Fillmore streets, also in St. Paul, is so rough that she avoids the road and scoots over to a smoother Wabasha Street to cross the river into downtown.
All across the metro area, motorists are encountering and trying to avoid those road hazards that are as much a nemesis to drivers as they are to public works crews.
“They are trying to dodge them while we are trying to cover them,” said Lisa Cerney, an engineer with the Minneapolis Public Works Department.
At times, it seems as if it’s a losing battle on both sides.
Just as one hole gets filled, two to three more pop up. On Wednesday, Cerney said the crews started with a list of 35 patches to make, and by day’s end three patching crews working around the clock “did a lot more.”
Snowmelt coupled with below-freezing temperatures at night have created the perfect conditions for potholes to form. As water seeps into tiny cracks in the pavement, it expands and contracts, damaging the pavement. As traffic puts pressure on weak pavement, it begins to crumble and a pothole is born.
As annoying as they are, however, 2018 doesn’t appear to be shaping up to be one of those “Potholepalooza-type” years, even with the harsh winter and recent heavy snow.
“It always feels like this is the worst year ever because this is the time of year when potholes reappear,” said Lisa Hiebert, the St. Paul Public Works Department’s public information officer.
In fact the year will likely be “nothing unusual,” Cerney said.
Of course, that can all change with Minnesota’s unpredictable March weather known to serve up monster snowfalls, bitter cold and even summer-like warmth.
But it takes only one pothole to create a problem. And where there are potholes — like on Hwy. 55 near I-94 in Minneapolis, all along Ayd Mill Road in St. Paul and on westbound I-494 between Robert Street and Dodd Road in Mendota Heights — there’s the potential to wreak havoc on car tires and suspensions.
Every year more than 30 million drivers collectively shell out $3 billion for damage caused by striking potholes, according to the most recent data from AAA. Most repairs cost less than $250, AAA says, but in some cases the bill can exceed $1,000; the average repair cost is $306, the study found.
City officials advise motorists to slow down and avoid driving through standing water, which may be hiding a deep crater underneath. They also remind drivers to be mindful when swerving to avoid potholes so as to not veer into the path of a neighboring or oncoming vehicle.
If you can’t avoid a pothole, slow down, but release the brakes and straighten the steering wheel just before impact to help minimize any damage, experts say.
Hiebert said four maintenance crews have been assigned to fill potholes across the city, but they won’t find them all. The best way to get one patched quickly is to report it. When reporting a pothole, be specific, she said.
“Don’t just say a road is bad,” Hiebert said. “Give them an address. We do appreciate help from the public.”
To report a pothole in Minneapolis call 311. In St. Paul, call 651-266-9700 or send an e-mail to potholes @ci.stpaul.mn.us. To report a pothole on a state highway, go to MnDOT’s website.
With more holes to fix than people available to fix them, neither St. Paul nor Minneapolis has a timetable as to how quickly reported potholes will get patched.
But “we will get to them,” Cerney promised.
Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768