Worst pothole outbreak in years? Yep

Worst pothole outbreak in years? Yep

CHAMPAIGN — So how bad were the potholes this year, really? Going by just the numbers, they were the worst they've been in a while.

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With the sheer number of hours Champaign public-works crews spent filling potholes this winter alone, it was the worst in recent memory. Compared with last year, they spent nearly triple the amount of time patching potholes this year, and you have to go back to the area's last nasty winter in 2010-11 to come close to the same numbers.

Champaign public works spokesman Kris Koester said the department got 380 calls about potholes between December and March. Not a terribly overwhelming amount — until you consider that crews filled in roughly 14,200 potholes with more than 175 tons of pothole patching material.

Maybe more impressive, however, is the number of cars damaged by potholes in Champaign this winter. Some drivers choose to file claims against the city for damage sustained by their vehicles if they think it was at fault for not addressing bumpy roads.

From 2011 to 2013, the city took 62 claims. It only paid on three of those — totaling about $1,700 during those three years.

Since December 2013 alone, the city has taken 71 claims from people who thought the city was responsible for pothole damage to their cars, according to city risk manager Larry Krause. City officials paid on none of those claims.

State law protects the city and its employees from liability so long as the roads are kept in a reasonably safe condition — which means a lot of people were left covering their own auto-damage bills.

A bit of good news, though: The worst of it seems to be over.

"Right now, we're just back to routine maintenance," Koester said.

The city had contracted for extra equipment and people during the worst of it, but that's over now. Outside of the city's routine street-maintenance programs, the pothole filling has largely been reduced to residents' service requests.

"As our guys are out on their sections, if they see them, then they'll fill them," Koester said.

The city of Champaign will draw $500,000 from next year's sales-tax money to pay for extra street-patching work it already completed this spring. It also boosted its regular budget by an extra $550,000 to start catching up on a backlog of street projects that were due anyway. That alone is more than $1 million extra the city is putting toward streets after the harsh winter.

Patrick Gayer, owner and manager at Kirby's Tire and Service Center in Urbana, said the worst seems to be over on his end, too. The garage saw a spike in customers during the past few months, but it's been tapering off.

"We did," Gayer said. "Not so much anymore. They've been going around fixing" the potholes.

The damage was recognizable, he said: Blown tires and busted rims, mostly. A few suspension problems.

"It was a lot more this year," Gayer said. "More this year than any year that I've been doing it."

The monetary damage on something like that depends on the car, he said. A factory car with a busted factory rim could run you $350 or more. Some cars apparently got some more serious jolts when they came in with battered suspensions.

"All these cars now have springs for the front struts," Gayer said. "Jarring the front end like that really makes the springs work, and it has broke some springs."

But that's at least good news for business, right? You would think more busted cars would be a boon for local garages.

"Yeah and no," Gayer said. "It has helped us, but usually, when you're just talking about replacing one tire, there's not much profit on one tire."

So, in reality, more potholes really just mean more work for garages and more expense for drivers, he said. Extra work and extra expense for the city, too. Hassles all around.

Potholes by the numbers

This winter and spring was one of the worst in recent memory for potholes. But how bad was it really? Crews used between 175 and 185 tons of pothole patching material. Estimating that you can fill about 80 potholes per ton, city officials say they filled about 14,200 potholes. That's a lot of hours on the job.

Total hours city crews spent patching potholes:

Dec. 2013 through March 2014: 1,271.56 hours.

Dec. 2012 through March 2013: 443 hours.

Dec. 2011 through March 2012: 997.25 hours.

Dec. 2010 through March 2011: 1,144.5 hours.

SOURCE: Champaign Public Works

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