After the snow, a profusion of potholes
Snow-removal crews shift to filling in craters
City workers, from left, Everett Wicks, Teresa Blow and Barry Coleman make temporary patches to Boston Street. Permanent repairs will be done in warmer weather. (Baltimore Sun photo by Kenneth K. Lam / February 17, 2010)
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All over the city and the region, motorists are dodging, weaving and sometimes thumping right through the multitude of craters that have been cooked up by the recent twin snowstorms. A new storm that might arrive Monday and Tuesday could bring yet another batch.
"Looks like either some meteors hit or somebody misfired some mortars," Brendan Ragan, public relations director of Single Carrot Theatre, wrote in an e-mail Wednesday, describing a "scary series" of potholes between Baltimore and Fayette streets on northbound President Street.
In Baltimore, a place where potholes are such a civic obsession that the city once solicited donations from people who wanted to fill the pothole of their choice as a Valentine's Day gift, there were 206 pending pothole complaints generated by the 311 system as of Wednesday afternoon.
Drivers reported they had to swerve to avoid canyons on the Jones Falls Expressway and O'Donnell and Conkling streets, among many other places.
Richard Hooper, the city Transportation Department's reigning "King of Potholes," said residents will "absolutely" be seeing more potholes emerging in the coming days and weeks. But the 25-year veteran, whose more formal title is chief of the transportation maintenance division, said this year isn't much worse than previous winters with heavy snowfall.
"This is similar to what we had back in 1996 and maybe back in 2003," he said.
Hooper said potholes form when water seeps into cracks in the pavement, causing it to swell. Then along comes a vehicle that mashes in the bulge, deflating it and forming a pothole.
He said the city isn't waiting until the snow removal can be completed to deal with the pothole profusion.
With the progress the city has made, Hooper said, "we were able to afford to pull 12 crews out to work on potholes."
Hooper said the city is urging citizens to report potholes on its 311 system, adding that it intends to adhere to its "guarantee" of a repair within 48 hours on business days. He said his crews can locate the holes on the main routes but needs help finding those on secondary roads.
The repairs the city will carry out now might not be pretty or anything approaching permanent.
"It's what we call 'throw and go,' " Hooper said - temporary patches that might have to be redone in the spring.
It's not much different on state roads.
"We definitely in the last few days have seen a lot more potholes," said State Highway Administration spokeswoman Valerie Burnette Edgar, adding that the agency is mostly doing stopgap fixes on its roads.
"Whatever is put in is probably going to have to be done again starting in spring," she said.
For the especially unfortunate, hitting a large pothole at a high speed can result in serious damage to vehicles.
Ren Althouse said she was recently making her daily commute from Bel Air to Lanham on southbound Interstate 97 in Anne Arundel County when she found herself behind a large truck and on a collision path with a pothole.
"Since the truck had been blocking my view I didn't see it in time to steer around it, and my front left tire completely popped," she wrote in an e-mail about the Feb. 3 incident - which occurred after a cold January but before the first snowstorm hit this month.
Althouse was able to quickly get back on the road with the help of fellow motorists, but many more could soon be sharing her experience.
Like the city, the state is seeking a balance between the need to remove snow and the urgency of filling potholes that develop on high-speed roads such as interstates.
"The same crews that are trying to truck out the snow are the same ones trying to fix the potholes," Edgar said.
The spokeswoman said the state typically tries to remedy pothole complaints within a single business day. But during this storm aftermath, she said, it is setting priorities one corridor at a time.
Edgar said that about 60 percent of the complaint calls the highway administration receives actually involve county or city roads. The SHA maintains routes with state route numbers outside Baltimore. State toll facilities and parts of Interstate 95 fall under the jurisdiction of the Maryland Transportation Authority.
The spokeswoman encouraged people who know of potholes on state highways to submit a service request form at http://marylandsha.force.com/customercare/request_for_service and to provide as much specific information about the location as possible.
The counties generally reported fewer pothole problems - so far.
Baltimore and Harford counties are still digging out from the snow and have not had time or manpower to focus on problem potholes. But officials in both counties know motorists' complaints about the roads will be coming as soon as the snow clears.
"People are still really preoccupied with snow and the complaints about problem roads have not stopped coming," said David Fidler, spokesman for the Baltimore County public works department. "Calls now are mostly about the lack of sight distance because of snow barriers. But we know calls about potholes are coming."
Harford County crews are still working to clear roads of snow and ice. Pothole repairs will likely wait for milder weather, said Robert B. Thomas, county spokesman.
"We know potholes will be an issue as the road surfaces freeze and thaw," Thomas said. "There will likely be many from the severe winter weather and the results of plowing with heavy equipment. This is an issue that will require our attention in the spring."
Anne Arundel County spokesman Dave Abrams said that as of Wednesday, the county has had very few pothole problems. "It's not a big deal in our county," Abrams said.
William F. Malone Jr., chief of the Howard County bureau of highways, said that potholes haven't been a problem in the county during the snowstorms. He said the county generally has a couple of trucks doing repairs during pothole season.
"Supervisors, as we see potholes or get them called in, get them filled quickly," said Malone. "But I haven't seen anything in a while. There may be, but right now we're doing other things and there's been nothing to pull us off that."
Baltimore Sun reporters Mary Gail Hare and Joe Burris contributed to this article.