Pothole season hits Northwest Indiana
By Karen Caffarini Post-Tribune correspondent February 19, 2013 7:50PM
A car passes a large pothole along Harrison in Gary Tuesday Feb. 19, 2013. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media
State Farm has the following advice for motorists on how to protect themselves and their vehicle from deteriorating roads.
1. Try to take roads you know well. Your familiarity will help you avoid potholes.
2. When driving at night, travel on well-lit roads so you can see the surface.
3. Slow down. Give yourself a chance to see the pothole and avoid it before you’re in it.
4. If you hit a pothole, carefully inspect your tires and wheels for possible damage. Note how your car handles afterwards. If it “pulls” one way or the other or the steering feels wobbly, you may want to have your car checked by a professional.
5. If you can’t avoid a pothole, do your braking before impact. There’s less damage when a tire is rolling than skidding over a hole during braking.
Updated: February 19, 2013 8:36PM
It’s that time of year again, when even a short drive in the family vehicle can turn into a jaw-jarring, tire-destroying, white-knuckled experience.
It’s the dreaded pothole season, when small cracks in the pavement turn into craters without warning, causing drivers to have to deftly maneuver between huge holes and other vehicles.
A wrong move could result in a hefty bill at the mechanic’s.
Missy Dundov, a spokeswoman for State Farm insurance, said the average pothole claim ranges from $300 to $700, with tires and suspension getting the brunt of the impact. Because most people carry $500 or $1,000 deductibles, those repairs along with the tow bill usually come out of the driver’s pocket, Dundov said.
Potholes form when water seeps into a small crack in the pavement. When temperatures drop, the water freezes, causing the ground to expand and push the pavement up. When the water thaws, the ground returns to normal, but the pavement remains raised. Add thousands of pounds from vehicles rolling over it and the pavement falls into hollow space underneath, forming the chasm, chuckhole, pothole, or whatever name you give it.
In Northwest Indiana, pothole season usually falls when winter begins transitioning to spring and weather fluctuates from day-to-day. But even cities with year-round tropical climates like Honolulu can’t escape the pothole plague.
Municipal, county and state public works and streets departments have been busy for the last couple weeks filling the holes with cold patch, a temporary solution that will hopefully fill the gap until April, when the weather is more likely to stay above freezing and the asphalt plants reopen, providing the material needed to repave the roads.
“We just had a bunch of potholes pop up in the last week because of all the rain,” Bruce Spires, public works director for Merrillville, said.
He said he had five trucks out on pothole patrol three days last week.
Public works and street department supervisors in Lake and Porter counties say they find the potholes on their own, or as a result of a phone call from a resident, school bus driver or public safety worker.
“If someone has taken the effort to call, we’ll go out there to check it out,” said Al Hoagland, Porter County Highway Department supervisor.
In Gary, director of General Services Cozey Weatherspoon said potholes are scattered throughout the city’s 57 square miles, but the public works department is concentrating on the major, more heavily traveled streets, while doing some side streets, too.
By the time April rolls around, Weatherspoon said he anticipates using more than 400 tons of the cold patch material.
Brent Dickson, assistant director of public works for Valparaiso, said cold patch fixes can last eight months, and in some cases, may be all that is required to fix a road. But John Dubach, Hobart’s public works director, said cold patch is not a permanent solution by any stretch of the imagination.
“Weather will affect the patch. Some potholes need to be filled again and again,” Dubach said.
Hoagland said in Porter County, there is a difference between sandy versus clay soil and tree-shaded versus treeless road when it comes to potholes.
Dickson said big holes and long stretches of potholes can be a sign that the problem is deeper inside the road and will need a bigger fix when the weather warms.
A costly problem
For municipal, county and state governments, potholes can add up to a costly problem. Not only do they have to keep fixing the holes, in some cases, they will reimburse the cost of the damage the pothole caused.
“We have been successful in getting money back from the community for our clients at times, but not in every instance,” Dundov of State Farm said.
Dickson said the different government bodies have claim forms that can be filled out by people who have sustained car damage due to a pothole. He said whether the person will be reimbursed often depends on where the damage occurred.
Municipalities differ in how they pay to fix the roads. In Gary, it’s strictly out of the public works budget, while in Merrillville it comes from both casino funds and the local road and street budget, Spires said.
None of the people contacted had a dollar figure on how much is spent each year, but Weatherspoon said there should be no problem being able to meet the needs financially this year.
Still, as Hoagland said of the cost to patch Porter County’s 815 miles of road, “It’s a lot of road. It’s a lot of money.”