Winter storms and roller coaster freeze-thaw cycles over the past three months produced ideal conditions for potholes.
They're on residential streets, country roads and interstate highways. They range from dimples to gaping holes and for the past three months, they have been popping up everywhere according to the work crews who must find and patch them.
"We have been inundated with them," said Kenneth Holloway, Newport News Street Maintenance Division Administrator, who noted his crews have repaired 6,397 potholes since January, a 1,400 increase over the same time in 2013.
"We've seen about a 30 percent increase," added Tyler Richardson, superintendent of streets and roads in Hampton.
The two men have had crews out daily patching holes. Richardson said his department has spent about $3,000 each day, with crews working five days each week. Holloway said he has had five to eight crews out on a daily basis, trying to patch the damage.
So far Richardson estimates his department has spent $200,000 on pothole repairs. Holloway said his department has spent $187,000 on fixing potholes, up $30,000 over the same period in 2013. Both men said pothole repair comes out of their operating budgets, as does snow removal. Richardson said the combination has him watching his budget closely. "We'll end up spending all of our budget" by June 30, he predicted.
The Virginia Department of Transportation also has seen a bumper crop of potholes, said spokeswoman Marshall Herman. "Because of the weather, we're obviously seeing more."
From January through March 9, VDOT crews repaired almost 9,500 potholes on interstates and county roads in the Hampton Roads region. The repairs have cost $840,372 so far. In 2013, the department spent $2.1 million for the entire year on pothole fixes. Marshall said the figure could go higher this year.
Potholes form when water seeps into cracks in the surface pavement. With each new period of rain or snow, the cracks widen, extending into the road's sub layers. When water freezes and thaws, the gaps grow larger. Eventually the surface pavement cannot support the weight of vehicles, and it breaks up and craters into the layers below it. The holes can grow large enough to damage vehicle tires, hubcaps, wheel alignments and the undercarriages.
Richardson said potholes have occurred across Hampton, with no one neighborhood reporting a concentration. His crews average 30 pothole repairs each day.
Holloway said the majority of potholes in Newport News have been reported in downtown, the Southeast Community and in the city's northern neighborhoods, including along the upper sections of Warwick Boulevard. Roads are older in those areas and more prone to damage, he added.
Both men said their crews were making permanent repairs, using hot-mix asphalt, as often as possible. During colder weather they use a cold mix to temporarily fix potholes, then return when the weather is warmer to install a permanent patch.
Richardson said three motorists have filed pothole damage claims with Hampton, while in Newport News, 22 people have filed claims since January. That number is up from 2013, when eight claims were filed in the same period, said Newport News spokeswoman Kim Lee.
Holloway and Richardson noted temperatures in Hampton Roads could dip to freezing again in the next few weeks. The area's last frost date is April 15. But both men said they believe the worst of the cold weather is over. But that does not mean an end to new potholes dotting area roadways.
"We see them in summer, too," because of storms, Richardson said, but Holloway noted the numbers are far fewer than during winter. Richardson said summer brings other concerns, too. Crews must watch for buckling on concrete roads due to heat.
Richardson said his crews do not anticipate their work load lessening in the near term.
"It seems we're coming out of snow season and stepping directly into hurricane season," he said. "We're already talking about hurricane preparation.
Grimes can be reached by phone at 757-247-4758.
Where to report potholes
Virginia Department of Transportation (for interstates, bridges, county roads): 1-800-FOR-ROAD (1-800-367-7623).
Newport News: 757-933-2311.
Williamsburg: 757-220-6140.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun