Drivers spend about $3 billion annually on repairs from potholes, according to a national study, but local leaders say the mild weather has made them appear less often on Springfield and Clark County roadways this winter.
The study from AAA, a nonprofit that provides travel and automotive services and information to more than 56 million members nationwide, showed more than $15 billion dollars has been spent on repairs from potholes across the country over the past five years.
Municipalities work hard to keep potholes patched, but it can difficult, Clark County Engineer Johnathan Burr said. Springfield maintains about 720 lane miles of roadways, while Clark County maintains about 315 miles.
“Sometimes, they pop up overnight,” Burr said. “Sometimes you patch one here and cross the area off and one pops up 10 feet away. It’s just a constant battle.”
The average repair for a pothole-related incident costs about $300, the study says. AAA responds to more than 4 million calls for flat tires, many of which are caused by potholes, according to the report.
There are “way too many potholes” in Springfield and Clark County, city resident Lori Gueth said.
“Some areas you just can’t go anywhere without potholes,” she said.
The potholes are especially troublesome for Gueth, who drives a Smart Car.
“For me to hit a pothole, I just sink in,” she said. “I don’t want to bust my suspension. I’m afraid to go anywhere.”
Fewer potholes have been reported by residents and city employees so far this year, Springfield City Service Director Chris Moore said. The city doesn’t keep track of how many patches it makes each year due to varying sizes.
“We really just base it on the volume of work orders we see,” Moore said.
The city has no specific amount of money set aside to repair potholes, Moore said, but rather a budget to maintain streets.
The recent warm weather has allowed the service department to perform not just extra street maintenance, but more work across the board, he said. During snow season, employees typically begin at 4 a.m. to provide snow removal services, but with no snow on the ground, they can focus on patching holes on high-volume streets with no traffic.
“We’ve been able to be really responsive,” he said.
The main employees reporting potholes are snow plow drivers, Moore said. As the snow melts and more potholes are created, plow drivers can help work crews patch it immediately, he said.
“They don’t want to hit them either,” he said. “They’re traversing every lane of every street. They’re able to call back in and get work orders generated,” he said. “As it warms up, they can go back out and get the potholes filled on their snow routes.”
The city service department uses cold patch, the standard material to fix potholes, as well as a total patching machine that uses emulsified asphalt and gravel to fill holes. The machine was purchased for about $45,000 about two years ago.
“It’s helped us not have as many potholes,” Moore said. “When you use that, you don’t have to go back. It really holds up well. Sometimes, initially, it’s not the smoothest ride. But durability-wise, it patches the hole really well.”
The current freeze/thaw cycle is the main time for potholes, Burr said, regardless of the weather. While the temperature may be 30 degrees during the day, the pavement is typically 40 to 45 degrees, enough to melt snow. However roads typically re-freeze as the temperatures dip back down overnight.
“It doesn’t have to be the zero-degree temperatures to get potholes,” he said.
Local municipalities are liable for some damages caused under a narrow set of circumstances, Springfield Law Director Jerry Strozdas said. The city must have had notice the pothole was there and a fair opportunity to fix it and didn’t, he said.
The city is also only liable for losses not covered by insurance, which can make drivers upset, Strozdas said.
“It’s there to protect public treasuries,” he said.
Pothole claims are typically paid through the city’s insurance pool, Strozdas said. Many of the claims don’t exceed $500.
Residents who see a pothole on a city street should either call the service center at 937-525-5800 or log on to the city’s website, springfieldohio.gov.
“During normal day-to-day operations, there are a lot of streets and no one knows their streets better than the people who live there,” Moore said. “If people want to report those, we’re always welcome to help that.”