Cities battling potholes

By Don Babwin

Associated Press

EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. — Already desperately poor, the city didn’t need this.

All winter long, snow- and ice-covered streets repeatedly froze and thawed, opening up scores of cracks in the pavement. The cracks turned into potholes, and the potholes turned into gaping craters.

Now this city and others across the nation are left with more potholes than they have seen in decades. Add the fact that asphalt is an expensive oil-based product, and the cost of those repairs is higher than ever.


"It’s been devastating," said City Manager Robert Betts. "We just don’t know what to do."

Some road departments are even delaying major construction projects because they need to spend money instead on patching potholes.

In East St. Louis, the city is filling only the deepest and largest holes — leaving behind some that are large enough to break axles and puncture the tires of vehicles, including city ambulances, police cars and fire trucks.

This past winter was especially brutal in many parts of the country, bringing blizzards and heavy snow. The Midwest was particularly hard-hit, and one result is more damaged pavement.

Chicago already has filled 120,000 potholes since Dec. 1, about 50,000 more than during the same period last year.

Chicago officials concluded that the north end of Lake Shore Drive, one of the most scenic routes in the city, was so pockmarked that the speed limit, which is normally raised from 40 mph to 45 mph in the summer, will stay at the slower speed limit.

"We haven’t done that in at least 15 years," said Brian Steele, transportation department spokesman.

Indianapolis is using more asphalt than in previous years and paying $52 a ton instead of last year’s $40 price.


"It’s going to create potholes down the line because paying $12 more a ton means we can pave less miles, and therefore the roads aren’t in as good of shape," said Kit Werbe, spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Public Works.

Petroleum is a key ingredient in the asphalt that gets spread on roads and poured into potholes. Mixed with sand or gravel, the oil serves as the glue that holds the other materials together.

In Des Moines, Bill Stowe, the assistant city manager for public works and engineering, said prices for asphalt and gasoline are climbing at exactly the wrong time.

This winter, the city had to spend $800,000 more than the $3 million it had budgeted to clean up 58 inches of snow.

Then there was $70,000 to fill the potholes — more than four times the amount spent in recent years.

It’s the same story in Madison County, Iowa, where gas costs about $1 more than last year, causing officials to spend $90,000 to $100,000 more than they planned.

In Milwaukee, the number of pothole reports this winter nearly doubled, to 5,500. at a cost of $440,000.

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