To motorists wondering if bumping and bottoming out on local roads is worse this winter than last, the answer is yes.
Temperature extremes from subzero in December to the 20s and 30s this month have resulted in a proliferation of potholes, state and local road departments reported."We are having tremendous problems right now," said Tarviz Rokhva, assistant superintendent of roads for Salt Lake City.
City road crews will fill 20,000 potholes with 400 tons of asphalt this winter, he said, compared to pouring 250-300 tons into 15,000 road craters during a normal winter.
"This is a lot worse than last year," said Kim Morris, spokesman for the Utah Department of Transportation, which will spend about $130,000 just to repair winter road damage in Salt Lake County.
And county road crews will spend more than $180,000 - up from $160,000 last year - on pothole repairs, according to Tosh Kano, assistant director of public works.
Despite the additional funding, it isn't enough to take care of the problem. Chuckholes could be prevented if more roads were resurfaced in good weather. But lack of money and manpower on the state and local level results in only a fraction of the roads receiving a new surface during the construction season.
Chuckholes occur on old roads cracking and falling apart before winter sets in. As temperatures drop, water that has penetrated the cracks of an aging road freezes and expands, widening the crack and breaking and buckling the surrounding surface. When a momentary thaw sets in, passing traffic knocks the broken asphalt away in chunks, leaving a hole in the road.
And when the freeze and thaws are extreme, as they have been this year, the damage to old roads multiplies.
Ironically, while elected officials provide inadequate funding to prevent potholes, they give plenty of attention to repairs needed after the damage occurs. City, county and state agencies say that fixing potholes ranks only behind clearing snow and ice from roads on the priority list.
UDOT, which had 15 crews filling holes in the road last Friday, says it will respond to a public complaint about a chuckhole in 48 hours or less. "When we hear about them, we try to respond ASAP," Morris said.
Kano said motorists can also expect a prompt response from the county. "When we are talking about safety and damage to vehicles, we will try to fix it no matter what."
To prevent hearing from the public too often, state and local agencies have road maintenance personnel searching roads for potholes.
Salt Lake City also uses its garbage collection crew to report on street conditions. "The nature of their job takes them to every street in the city" in a week's time, Rokhva said.