Near record temperatures over the weekend likely spawned cases of spring fever, but the warmth also signals the arrival of something that might be even more menacing to motorists than road construction: pothole season.
Those unwelcome divots and craters have started showing up around town, but early indications are that with the mild winter, drivers may not be dodging as many of those tire puncturing, rim bending, suspension damaging and wallet draining holes this year.
“It’s quiet so far,” said Mike Thomke with the St. Paul Public Works Department. “But I suspect that will start to change.”
Drivers only have to go back to the winter of 2013-14 to know just how bad things can be. That year, potholes were popping up at a frenetic pace and the city of Minneapolis allocated an extra $1 million to fill the holes.
This year, the ingredients for a bumper crop of potholes — lots of moisture seeping into cracks followed by the freeze-thaw cycle — have not materialized, said Mike Kennedy, street maintenance superintendent for the Minneapolis Public Works Department. At least not yet; stay tuned. March is more than capable of delivering whopper tournament snowstorms and wild temperature swings from subzero cold to summerlike 70s — conditions that are ripe for breeding potholes.
Best defense? A good offense
Yes, it’s still early to say what exactly will truly transpire, but weather aside, the best defense against potholes is a good offense. And Minneapolis and St. Paul have been playing ball. Over the past two construction seasons, both cities have been seal-coating and repaving miles of streets to create surfaces less prone to absorbing water and later buckling.
“Newer streets — that helps a lot,” Kennedy said. “Where you see potholes is on older streets with cracks and patches that open up. With an emphasis on prevention, you don’t see as many as you would otherwise.”
Still, it only takes one encounter with a pothole to do a number on your car. A recent report from AAA found that American drivers collectively spend $3 billion a year on repairs attributed to potholes. Besides flat tires, common issues include broken tie rods, ball joints and cars that are knocked out of alignment. Repairs can run hundreds of dollars or more, said Seamus Dolan, a community services specialist at AAA Minneapolis.
About a third of drivers said a pothole had caused damage to their vehicle in the past five years, AAA said. Paul Quinn of Farmers Insurance said it processes nearly 500,000 pothole-related claims annually.
From now through early April is prime time for potholes. Dolan and Quinn offer a couple of tips to keep you and your car out of the repair shop:
• Your tires are the only cushion between a pothole and your vehicle, so be sure tires are inflated properly. Also check to see that they have adequate tread depth.
• Drivers might not like this one, but slow down. A lot. And don’t tailgate. That will give you time to maneuver around a pothole. If hitting one is unavoidable, slowing down generally reduces the shock and damage to tires and other components.
• Puddles may look harmless, but a deep pothole might be lurking underneath. Steer clear of standing water.