Tire torture

City streets plagued with more than 11,000 potholes.

  • This year, Philly is expected to exceed its 2013 total of 11,000 potholes, according to Streets Department spokeswoman June Cantor.

  • Rough riders: Potholes are shown at Ryan and Lexington avenues. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTOS

You’d think that, with 15 storms this winter that to­geth­er dropped more than 5 feet of snow, Philly would have set a new snow­fall re­cord, but, no, it didn’t. There’s still time, of course, to move up to No. 1. Spring doesn’t show up un­til the af­ter­noon of March 20. Try to think warm thoughts un­til then.

However, the city is go­ing to set one re­cord, if it hasn’t already, and that’s for potholes. This year, Philly is ex­pec­ted to ex­ceed its 2013 total of 11,000 potholes, ac­cord­ing to Streets De­part­ment spokes­wo­man June Can­tor.

That beats the John Len­non line from the Sgt. Pep­per al­bum, “Four thou­sand holes in Black­burn, Lan­cashire,” joked AAA Mid-At­lantic spokes­wo­man and Beatles fan Jenny Robin­son. 

“My apo­lo­gies to the Beatles, but those thou­sands of potholes are a ma­gic­al misery tour for mo­tor­ists in Phil­adelphia,” she wrote in a March 5 email to the North­east Times.

That pain isn’t just a jar­ring sen­sa­tion. It’s bank ac­count agony.

Na­tion­wide, Robin­son stated in an earli­er news re­lease, dam­age to autos caused by potholes will run $6.4 bil­lion. Sus­pen­sion re­pairs can drain $2,500 from a mo­tor­ist’s wal­let, she said. Wheels can cost $50 to $500 to re­pair, she ad­ded. That’s not count­ing cash for tire re­pairs or new tires.

AAA Mid-At­lantic saw re­cord-break­ing tire-re­lated re­quests for as­sist­ance in Janu­ary and Feb­ru­ary, Robin­son said, top­ping out at 67,621 in the auto club’s five-county Great­er Phil­adelphia ter­rit­ory, mak­ing this Janu­ary and Feb­ru­ary the first and third busiest ever (in terms of tire-re­lated re­quests), with the second busiest month com­ing in Decem­ber 2010.

Oth­er than keep­ing your wheels parked un­til sum­mer, what’s the best way to cope with the city’s streets­cape craters? The best way, Robin­son said, is just slow down.


Potholes are no piece of cake for the city’s fin­ances, either. The av­er­age cost of ma­ter­i­als to fill a pothole in Philly is $22, Can­tor told the pa­per in a March 4 email. Mul­tiply num­ber of potholes against that cost and it’s easy to see a city­wide tab of al­most a quarter-mil­lion dol­lars.

“PennDOT an­nu­ally budgets $2.5 mil­lion for road­way patch­ing in the five-county Phil­adelphia re­gion,” ac­cord­ing to spokes­man Eu­gene Blaum. “We will sur­pass that amount due to the severe and early out­break of potholes this winter, but we will ad­just our gen­er­al main­ten­ance budget and con­tin­ue to re­pair potholes throughout the spring.”

PennDOT has used 4,000 tons of patch­ing ma­ter­i­al in the Phil­adelphia re­gion since Dec. 1, 2013, Blaum re­por­ted.

“This is more than double the amount of patch­ing ma­ter­i­al used the two pre­vi­ous win­ters dur­ing the same time frame,” he said.

It’s in March that pothole re­pair work will be at its height, Can­tor said, but she ad­ded that the city star­ted last month. Feb­ru­ary and March also are the top months for holes to start pot­ting the roads, Robin­son said.

“Potholes can be cold-patched any­time,” Robin­son said, but hot as­phalt can’t be poured un­less the temps are above 40 de­grees, which usu­ally doesn’t hap­pen con­sist­ently un­til March. Av­er­age temps for this time of year, she said, are about 47 de­grees, but that has not been the case this year.

“We’ve been far be­low the av­er­age so far,” she said.

You are likely to see much of that street re­pair work be­ing done in right lanes. Why? Right lanes are the most traveled parts of roads, Robin­son said. Poor drain­age areas or areas where wa­ter ponds or col­lects near a road would be spots where potholes could break out, Blaum said.

That is fur­ther ex­plained by what causes the holes. Wa­ter gets un­der­neath the road­way. The seep’s im­pact, since wa­ter ex­pands when it freezes, is that the ice puts pres­sure on the road sur­face from be­low while the cars trav­el­ing over the sur­face put pres­sure on it from above.

Since that’s the way the black­top crumbles, it makes sense that there would be more potholes in right lanes.

Streets paved long ago are more pothole-prone, Can­tor stated.

ldquo;Potholes tend to form on older streets where sur­face crack­ing has already oc­curred which al­lows wa­ter to seep in­to the as­phalt,” Can­tor stated. “Potholes also tend to oc­cur on re­in­forced con­crete bridge decks when the re­in­for­cing steel be­comes cor­roded.”

As­phalt-covered roads are more pothole-prone, Blaum said.

Con­crete high­ways, there­fore, might have few­er potholes. However, they’re more ex­pens­ive to build and main­tain, Robin­son said. Hot weath­er might cause “blow ups,” pothole-like prob­lems, on con­crete roads.

“Dur­ing a string of ex­cess­ively hot days, con­crete slabs may ex­pand to the point where two slabs push against each oth­er. The force then causes the slabs to ‘lift’ and this res­ults in a pave­ment heave and sub­sequent pave­ment dam­age,” Blaum said. This does hap­pen in the Great­er Phil­adelphia area, he said. It’s happened on Route 422 in Mont­gomery County, he said.

It’s not ac­cur­ate that a pothole is a pothole is a pothole be­cause not every dent in a road’s sur­face is, ac­cord­ing to the Streets De­part­ment’s web­site. There are dif­fer­ences, and they’re not subtle.

“Potholes tend to be a bowl-shaped de­fect,” ac­cord­ing to in­form­a­tion on Streets’ site. “Ditches are usu­ally cleanly cut rect­angles. Cave-ins, or sink­holes, are large de­pres­sions that can be four feet by four feet in area or lar­ger.”

No mat­ter what it’s called, the world re­cord hold­ing hole is prob­ably in the United King­dom, which has been break­ing cen­tur­ies-old rain­fall re­cords this year. Ac­cord­ing to The Times of Lon­don, a 16-foot-by-6-foot hole that is 15 feet deep re­cently shut down a 10-mile stretch of the M2 in North Kent, Eng­land. So far, noth­ing of that mag­nitude has been re­por­ted in Philly. ••

Spot a pothole? Re­port its ex­act loc­a­tion and size as well as wheth­er or not the hole is in a traffic lane or park­ing lane to the Streets De­part­ment at 215-686-5560. 

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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