Sunday, March 9, 2003

Potholes waiting to eat your car

Repair crews can't keep up with volume

By Erica Solvig
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Tristate residents like Bonnie Buckman of Bright, Ind., will attest that the most stressful part of driving these days is not necessarily the traffic.

This pothole in the 400 block of Bakewell Street in Covington is about 2 feet long, 1 1/2 feet wide and 2 1/2 inches deep.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
| ZOOM |
Just 10 minutes from home, as she was rounding a corner on Kilby Road in Harrison, her 2002 Mitsubishi Spider ran into a 7-inch-deep pothole near railroad tracks Feb. 24.

"I didn't even see this hole until the last minute," said the mother of two, who replaced her tire and wheel for $540. "The thing was so big that the steering wheel jerked out of my hands.

"It was like hitting a brick wall."

After weeks of snow and freezing weather, the asphalt traps are all over Greater Cincinnati roadways. Experts say now is prime time for the potholes, as the late winter temperatures begin to dip and soar, causing the cracks in pavement to expand and contract even more than they have been and making driving some roads like navigating through a mine field.

  Officials urge drivers to report any potholes that need to be filled:
• Ohio Department of Transportation: 1-800-831-2142
• City of Cincinnati 513-591-6000
• Hamilton County: 513-761-7400
• Butler County: 513-867-5744
• Warren County: 513-925-1376
• Clermont County: 513-732-8857
• Kentucky Transportation Dept., Northern Kentucky district: 859-341-2700
• Boone County: 859-334-3600
• Campbell County: 859-635-9100
• Kenton County: 859-371-9169   For local roads, contact the town or village office.

City and county crews have been out in force trying to repair the roadways, but that's no help to the dozens of people paying for blown-out tires or broken axles.

"Compared to the last three, this has been a harder, snowier, wetter winter," said Steve Mary, a maintenance engineer with Hamilton County for about 17 years. "We're at the point of the year where we're generally seeing the maximum number of potholes forming."

It has cost the county roughly $60,000 to repair them, especially ones on pothole-ridden areas such as Galbraith, Compton and North Bend roads, he said.

Butler County's bill is approaching $75,000 for the season - up from the $50,000 budgeted last year, according to County Engineer Greg Wilkens. He estimated there are about 30 percent more potholes over last winter.

Unfortunately, state and county road officials say, the holes are all over and can't really be prevented.

Moisture seeps through the cracks and fills air pockets in the pavement, which allow for flexibility and durability. The cracks expand and contract as the moisture freezes and thaws.

Those cracks implode with the weight of traffic, and potholes are born.

Streets that haven't been paved recently, or those being worked on, are especially susceptible.

That was the case on Interstate 275, where Bill Dahlman of Batavia met his match last month. He slammed on the brakes of his 1988 Ford Taurus to avoid the hole, but they locked up and the impact with the pothole turned his car and sent him sliding down the left and middle lanes.

Two other vehicles slammed into him, leaving him with a totaled car, neck and shoulder strain and a citation for failing to control his vehicle. He now drives a 1999 Mercury Mystique - which he was on his way to purchase the day of the accident.

More common are the streams of customers complaining about blown tires, damaged wheels, and messed up alignments, according to Bill Jurgens, manager of Bob Sumerel Tire and Service in Alexandria, Ky.

Experts say drivers can try to lay off their bill with the entity in charge of the roadway.

This year has seen more potholes because of more freeze-thaw cycles and excessive moisture, said Gary Middleton, roadway services manager for the Ohio Department of Transportation.

"I've seen some that may be two to four square feet, and maybe up to four to six inches deep," he said. "Sometimes, when you're driving, you just span the gap and don't realize how deep they've gotten. But they can be deep."

ODOT fills the potholes within a day of getting notification.

First, crews use a "cold patch" of asphalt mix to cover the hole, Middleton said. Once warmer weather hits, and plants that make the final patch open, they'll use a "hot mix" or will repave the road.

"The problem is we don't always get a good area for the mix to bond to," he said of using the cold patches. "There's salt on the ground, there's moisture, and you just can't get a clean area."

The Covington District of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet echoed those sentiments. Operations Engineer Tom Schomaker added that some roadways, such as Dixie Highway at the Kenton and Boone county line, are recurring problem areas because of the pavement quality and amount of traffic.

Some areas, such as Cincinnati, also have automatic pothole-filling trucks out with road crews, which are splitting their time clearing the roads of snow and ice.

The city of Cincinnati has received roughly 1,200complaints about potholes since Jan. 1, said Daryl Brock, director of public services.

Comparatively, New Miami officials say they've already filled the nearly 40 potholes in that Butler County village.

"There's only 24 streets in the whole village," said Oak Goins, the village street department supervisor. "It's not hard to keep up with it compared to some of the bigger cities."

Residents can't wait for the day when their streets will be bump-free as well.

"I feel like I'm going to be eaten alive by the potholes in the Hyde Park area," said Jen Carey-Gluck of Oakley. "They jar your car when you hit them incorrectly. Unfortunately, I seem to hit them incorrectly all the time."


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