One right after another, drivers hit gaping potholes on Interstate 94 in downtown Minneapolis — and one after another, they felt their tires go flat.
The recent spate of damage that led to costly repairs could be a sign of things to come as record-breaking snow combines with a burst of wet spring warmth this week to open up a robust constellation of potholes on freeways, county roads and city streets.
“There could be a bumper crop this year,” said Lisa Hiebert, of the St. Paul Public Works Department. “The ingredients are there to cook up all those potholes.”
The weather will be the biggest determinant on just how bad this year’s potholes are, she said. If temperatures drop below 32 degrees at night, melting snow or rain that seeps into the cracks in the road can freeze. When water freezes, it expands, and when it thaws, the roadway cracks and chunks come loose.
The forecast for the next few days calls for temperatures to fall below freezing at night, setting the stage for the freeze-thaw cycle ripe for producing potholes. Drivers have noticed many streets have turned into minefields.
Stinson Boulevard between St. Anthony Boulevard and the Quarry in northeast Minneapolis “looks like a war zone,” said northeast Minneapolis resident James Carey. Not far away, Jeff Gassman said University Avenue between Central Avenue and Interstate 35 “is not even a road, it’s Swiss cheese.”
Mike Kennedy, the transportation maintenance director for Minneapolis, said the city’s investments in street maintenance and seal coating over the past few years may help keep the number of potholes down. Still, he says, “It will be bumpy for a while.”
The State Patrol confirmed that between 10 and 14 vehicles were damaged on I-94 on Sunday after they struck craters between the Portland Tunnel and Hiawatha Avenue.
“There are lots of cars still sitting here from over the weekend,” said Zachary Meyer, a service adviser at Bobby and Steve’s Auto World in Minneapolis where several of the cars damaged on I-94 were towed. “They were nasty.”
On I-94, water runoff combined with weak pavement played a role in the rifts that opened. Traffic had been permanently shifted to the shoulder to accommodate construction, but that asphalt was only 2 to 3 inches thick. Heavy traffic caused the surface to crumble away. MnDOT put 1,000 pounds of temporary mix down to shore up the road until warmer weather arrives and a permanent fix can be made, said spokesman David Aeikens.
Crews in Minneapolis and St. Paul have been out patching as time permits, but the crews that fill holes are the same ones wrapping up a three-day snow emergency and clearing drains to prevent flooding as the snow melts.
Until consistently warmer weather arrives, drivers can expect to see a lot more potholes.
“It is happening,” Aeikens said. “We make an effort to get to them as soon as possible.”