First the Arctic vortex, then the thaw, now potholes

By ASHLEY WEIGEL

Capital News Service

LANSING — While most of the immediate effects of the Arctic vortex storm have passed, potholes may continue to appear for many weeks.

Photo from MDOT

Photo from MDOT

The thaw following the storm has created jagged potholes across many main roads in Michigan. This is common, as the freezing and thawing of pavement causes this to happen every year.

Potholes are no small matter. The Michigan Department of Transportation spent $8.2 million in the 2009 fiscal year on pothole repairs alone, and the number of potholes this year is steadily increasing.

“It’s worse where you have aging pavement,” said Dan Weingarten, communications representative for the Michigan Department of Transportation Superior Region. Michigan potholes are a larger problem due to the lack of money for road maintenance. That means more areas with old pavement in need of repair.

“Michigan has poorer roads than almost any state,” said Larry Merrill, executive director of the Michigan Townships Association. According to Merrill, Michigan’s per capita spending on roads is the third lowest of the 50 states. “You get what you pay for,” Merrill said.

Gov. Rick Snyder addressed the transportation funding issue in his State of the State Address, saying he would like to increase the funding in this area.

This winter has been more difficult than usual, and road maintenance money needed for the rest of the year is at risk of being used, Merrill said. County road commissions have to spend more money on clearing the roads.

Manistee County, for example, has already used about two-thirds of its snow removal budget on more than 110 inches of snowfall this winter, said Manistee County Road Commission Manager Mark Sohlden.  Usually it sees 130 to 140 inches of snow for the entire season. The county is only 20 inches away from reaching the average, and with more snow on the way, staying within the budget may not be possible.

“We can’t stop plowing and salting the roads,” said Monica Ware, public relations specialist for the County Road Association of Michigan. “We have to keep the roads safe.”

That causes a long-term problem for  summer maintenance of the roads, she said. Since more of the budget is taken up with winter clean up and pothole repair, the commissions have less money to spend on fixing the roads for prevention of long-term problems during the summer.

The road conditions are becoming a bigger problem in the eyes of the public as well.

“People are less concerned about police and fire and more concerned about roads,” Merrill said. “Public officials get more complaints about ‘when are you going to fix my roads?’ than they do about anything else.”

Meanwhile, potholes are getting worse. The cycle leads to a “deterioration of the roads, ” Ware said.

The Michigan Department of Transportation has set up a hotline and an online form to address the immediate problem with potholes. Residents are encouraged to call and report the location of any pothole they encounter so a maintenance crew can be sent out to patch the hole as soon as possible. To report a pothole, residents can call the state pothole hotline at 888-296-4546, or go to the “Report a Pothole” link on the Michigan Department of Transportation website.

“We’re doing our best to patch it up, but it’s not a long-term fix,” Weingarten said. “It’s just the beginning of a long period of pothole patching.”

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