Whether you loved or hated the Unwinter of 2011-'12, it's definitely paying dividends for car suspensions.
During last year's winter -- remember, the one that brought an NFL stadium to its knees? -- Hennepin County received 316 pothole complaints, either over the phone or via the county's nifty pothole complaint Web portal (www.startribune.com/a1178). The year before, grievances numbered 280.
I asked Jake Bronder, Hennepin's field marshal for roads and bridges, how many pothole complaints the county has gotten this year. He said 10. Ten?
On 560 miles of roads?
"I'm happily surprised. Astonished," he said.
Minneapolis is reporting the same kind of off-the-charts fall: fewer than a hundred complaints this year, compared with more than 900 for the same time last year. (That includes county roads, most of them downtown, that the city also maintains.)
The huge swing probably has as much to do with last winter being miserable as with this winter being mild. Bronder said that rain in December 2010 created a pothole time bomb, dribbling water through cracks to the sub-base, where it could freeze and expand and blow out the asphalt.
It might also be the result of preventive maintenance. Bronder said the county is resurfacing more roads than before, doing up to 100 lane miles last year. Sealing more road cracks goes a long way toward cutting down on potholes.
Which isn't to say that the drop in potholes has necessarily saved money -- road crews are county employees, not contractors. But the winter-that-wasn't enabled crews to do a lot of work they don't typically handle in the cold months, such as filling ruts on gravel roads. Now they're freed up to do more preventive work, along with clearing diseased trees and trimming shrubs to improve road sightlines.
"That's going to help us out in the long run in future years," Bronder said.
You know, when those 30-below temps and 30-inch snowstorms return.
Kevin Duchschere • 612-673-4455