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Pothole season already filling up city street crew calendar

The city's street operations manager said the warmer winter weather is getting potholes filled faster
Published: Feb. 28, 2022 at 7:57 PM CST
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - The warmer weather these last few days has thawed and melted a lot of the ice on the roads.

But as we head into March and the temperatures frequently go above and below freezing, we’re already seeing a different kind of driving hazard.

Welcome back to pothole season, which will be in full bloom by Mid-March.

“They’re everywhere,” Brendan Crawford of Sioux Falls said during a pit stop at a local gas station on a balmy, 62-degree Monday. “You’re going to run into a pothole on at least one street easily. And they’re not small little bumps. They’re really big holes.

“It’s horrible. I mean, you think you’re on your way to work or something, and then you miss out on a whole new day of pay because your car is now in the shop for two weeks because it is completely destroyed.”

Crawford said this happened to a friend of his, who took a turn and hit a pothole last year, tearing apart his CV axle and front right tire, among other parts. Naturally, it’s an event that leaves any victim upset that the road had not yet been fixed.

“I’m hoping at some point, they’re going to go around and start filling all of them,” Crawford said of the potholes, “but I mean, seeing how it’s gone, I think they have ‘better priorities’ of what they want to build. They want more tourist attractions, in my opinion, than better roads.”

Sioux Falls Street Operations Manager Dustin Hansen has heard that kind of complaint a lot over the years, but said that on days when the temperatures are above freezing and the potholes aren’t filled with snow and ice, he sends three or four street crews of four to six people — about 20-25 crew members total — spread throughout the city filling potholes.

“For our team, it’s one of the highest priorities for the maintenance division, because we don’t want damage to people’s cars,” Hansen said. “We want smooth-riding roads.”

A few years ago, Hansen used to field 300 to 400 complaints a week during the winter about potholes — many of them angry and some filled with foul language.

But the warmer winter weather of the last three years has meant fewer potholes and fewer complaints, and more time to fill potholes on the warm February and early March days like Monday, before the freeze-and-thaw effect of March and April really roughs up the streets.

There will be more snowy and frigid days, followed by more above-freezing days that will melt the snow and ice. With that will bring new cracks and new potholes to fill.

When asked about Crawford’s mark, shared by many, that the city does not prioritize filling potholes and repairing cracked-up streets high enough, Hansen said this:

“Roads are very expensive to repair. They’re very expensive to replace. A mile of road can cost anywhere from five to ten million dollars. We have a certain amount of dollars each years that we have to put towards maintenance and building new roads, but our maintenance division is constantly fixing streets, whether it’s filling a pothole or we actually go out and have a block of street or a certain section that is bad.”

Hansen said his team has fielded over 14,000 requests to fill potholes the last three years, and have filled far more than that. Complaints have gone down partly because of how much more efficiently the process of his team finding out about the potholes works.

Three years ago, the city created a “pothole hotline” to call (605-367-8002) and a pothole reporting website (siouxfalls.org/pothole), along with a phone app. The pothole-filling requests sent to the app into the city’s work order system.

But as street crews find out about the potholes faster, and fill them faster, new ones will continue to form and sit there unfixed, inevitably damaging droves of vehicles every year.

Marv’s Body Show co-owner Evan Kendt said business for pothole-damaged vehicles picks up this time of year, with everything from busted alignment to broken bumpers. Depending the type of vehicle you drive, he said pothole damage could cost between $500 and $5000 in repair.

The destruction gets worse the more people put off taking their vehicles in for repair after they hit a pothole, Kendt said.

“The biggest thing is it’s going to start chewing up your tires,” Kendt said. “If your vehicle is out of alignment, your tires are going to start wearing unevenly, and tires are expensive — 600, 800, a thousand dollars for a set of tires. So, if you think (the alignment is) off, even if you’re not feeling it, you might want to get it checked out.”

Kendt also said the more modern the vehicle, the more complicated its suspensions, and the more averse they are to taking an impact. So, any little bump from a pothole is going to cause bent suspension and throw off the alignment.

“One of the biggest things is the safety systems on cars,” Kendt said. “A lot of cars today are designed to keep you in your lane, maybe alert you if you’re departing your lane, and all that depends on the vehicle being in correct alignment. So, if that’s thrown off, these safety systems might not be working the way they’re supposed to.”

There are plenty of ways to minimize the impact of hitting a pothole. The first obvious one is to be aware of them, and if there are no cars around you, to avoid them. But sometimes, you will be in traffic, and the pothole will be unavoidable.

In that case, slow down, if possible.

“If you hit a pothole going eight miles an hour, as opposed to 48 miles per hour, there’s going to be substantially less damage, if not no damage,” Kendt said. “So, just be aware of these obstructions and those potholes on the roadways this time of year while the city’s out getting them fixed, and just remember to slow down.”

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