Two workers swept the water out of a 6-inch-deep pothole on St. Paul’s Shepard Road on Friday, then filled it with asphalt mix and tamped it down to make a smooth surface.
One down. Way too many left to go.
Rapidly melting snow coupled with heavy rains have this spring shaping up to be one of the worst in recent years for potholes. Large ruts are opening so fast that crews are scrambling to keep up.
“Right now it’s a bit more like triage,” said Chris Anderson, a field supervisor with St. Paul Public Works. “We want to get the ones that can damage cars first. There are some whoppers out there.”
Clusters of potholes mar some of the city’s most notorious trouble spots, such as Ayd Mill Road, where Pat Walker had the misfortune of hitting a deep depression Monday night. The result? A torn tire and a $200 repair bill.
Drivers have also called the city about crops of potholes on Summit Avenue, Suburban Avenue and Energy Park Drive. On Friday, St. Paul Public Works crew members Bradley Therres and Lance Hamby tackled Shepard Road, dotted with hundreds of cavities between Elway Street and Gannon Road.
“There’s no shortage of potholes,” Therres said as he shoveled 250-degree asphalt. There were so many, he said he didn’t know if the crew would finish the job Friday.
Scores of drivers have also hit trouble in construction zones on Interstates 94 and 35W in downtown Minneapolis.
Damon Moss of Minneapolis was driving a rental car south in pouring rain Wednesday on I-35W before he saw the car in front of him “jump and wobble” just before Lake Street. Then he sank into a deep hole and his tire popped, ripped and sent his car out of control. He came to a stop between traffic lanes before he was able to straighten his vehicle out and get off the freeway.
“It’s really dangerous and you need to get somebody out there and fix it right away,” he said.
On Sunday, 14 motorists got flat tires after hitting potholes on eastbound I-94 between the Portland Tunnel and Hiawatha Avenue. A Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) crew shored up the pavement in the area, but that patch failed and the lane was shut down again Thursday for emergency repairs.
“The rain and traffic are creating challenges there,” said MnDOT spokeswoman Chris Krueger. “We are out there working, putting down mix. We are doing what we can.”
March is prime time for potholes and one of the most difficult times of the year to fix them, Anderson said. The ground is still unstable, and roads subjected to the freeze-thaw cycle are vulnerable to cracking, which allows water to seep in.
With temperatures still falling below freezing at night, asphalt does not bond to pavement as well. That means crews can patch a pothole one day, only to have to return the next day or week to patch the same hole again. Or a new one might form right next to one that was patched, he said.
“It’s like Whac-a-Mole,” Anderson said. “It’s coming up everywhere at us.”
MnDOT has received more than 300 reports about potholes on metro area highways and freeways since the beginning of March.
The agency also has been flooded with claims from drivers seeking compensation for pothole-related damages. From February through Thursday, the agency had received 74 claims with just under half of those coming from drivers whose vehicles were damaged in the I-35W and I-94 construction zones, Krueger said.
In some cases, drivers can get compensation from a city, county or the state if they can prove the agency was liable. There is no set criteria under which claims will be paid. Each claim is evaluated on its own merits, officials for St. Paul, Minneapolis and MnDOT said.
As drivers battle the increasingly bumpy Twin Cities roads, Therres and Hamby know every crater they fill can save a driver from trouble.
“Absolutely, that’s rewarding,” Hamby said.