Thaw unveils ‘more severe’ potholes in Detroit area

Sarah Rahal and Candice Williams
The Detroit News

Potholes are becoming an increasing concern for Metro Detroit motorists as well as local and state transportation officials because the recent thaw has taken a toll on roads and highways.

In Oakland County, crews have been working overtime to patch potholes along the 2,700 miles of road the county maintains, said Craig Bryson, spokesman for the Oakland County Road Commission.

“When we’re not plowing and salting, we’re out pothole patching,” he said. “It’s earlier and more severe than in previous years.”

Bryson said there are sections of road in the county that are in “very bad shape.”

“I don’t have words for how many potholes and how the roads are crumbling,” said Diane Cross, spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Lt. Mike Shaw of the Michigan State Police said there have been no reports of crashes due to potholes on Metro Detroit’s freeways.

“The only thing we’ve had are incidents of objects, concrete, coming up from the roadway,” he said.

MDOT recently awarded a $5 million contract to Cadillac Asphalt to do emergency pothole patchwork along the hardest-hit stretches of freeway in Metro Detroit. The areas include parts of Interstate 696 in Macomb County and southbound Interstate 75 from Coolidge to Crooks in Oakland County.

The rainy weather has slowed crews, including Cadillac Asphalt, which uses a hot mix of gooey asphalt material that adheres to surrounding concrete. But it can’t get wet, Cross said, which means crews must delay work during snow and rain.

On Wednesday, the Macomb County Department of Roads plans to announce a $217 million project to fix Mound Road, where the county spends $3 million to $4 million annually on maintenance and repairs. The project is expected to conclude by 2022.

“We send out 13 patching crews daily across the city and prioritize complaints as well as roads that have been identified for resurfacing, such as McGraw, because they are the ones most likely to develop potholes,” said Ron Brundidge, director of Department of Public Works.

Brundidge said if motorists should report potholes through the Improve Detroit App and “we almost always will have it filled within 72 hours,” he said. Potholes on freeways can be reported online and by calling the MDOT hotline (888) 296-4546.

As frost melts beneath a paved road, the roadbed turns wet and spongy because water is trapped between the pavement and the remaining ice layer beneath. When trucks and heavy equipment travel over a layer of concrete or asphalt that isn’t well supported beneath, permanent cracks occur.

Bryson said each location is mostly likely an old road that is falling apart.

“There’s no money to reconstruct them,” he said.

Extreme temperature swings this winter means a worse pothole season than usual, said Emily Kizer, communications director for the Washtenaw County Road Commission. The county instituted a seasonal weight restrictions or “frost laws” to protect the nearly 1,700 miles of county roads.

“While the roads are thawing, they can be damaged very easily by excess weight. These rules mostly impact commercial trucking companies but also impacts local farmers and other types of commerce,” Kizer said.

Washtenaw’s seasonal weight restrictions went into effect on Sunday, along with Ingham, Lapeer, Livingston and Wayne counties on Monday. They reduce speed and axle-loading limits for certain vehicles.

The restrictions will be lifted later in the season as the temperatures warm up and the roads recover, Kizer said.

In this rainy weather, Bryson warns motorists not to drive through puddles.

“You don’t know what’s underneath them,” he said.

Potholes have been the culprits of damaged cars and flat tires, including one that left several motorists stranded in January near Ann Arbor. Misty Huffman, 38, hit the pothole and was forced to veer off the road along with several other cars. The pothole took a chunk out of her front driver-side tire rim, blew the suspension and damaged her windshield and side mirror.

“The police thought it was a chunk of broken concrete at first, then ice chunks because there was nothing in the road. After we got up to the next exit, right past another viaduct, there were more cars who had the same thing,” said Huffman.

The state police’s Shaw said motorists should not veer to avoid a pothole.

“You have to drive in a way that we’re able to handle any road condition,” he said. “You’ve still got to maintain control of your vehicle.”

Cross advises any motorists whose vehicles become disabled on the freeway to stay in their vehicles while waiting for help.

Twitter: @SarahRahal_