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Winter storms punch holes in roads, budgets

East St. Louis, Ill., already desperately poor, didn't need this.

All winter, snow- and ice-covered streets repeatedly froze and thawed, opening up scores of cracks in the pavement. The cracks turned into potholes, and the potholes into gaping craters.

Now this city and others across the nation are left with more potholes than they have seen in decades. Add in that asphalt is an expensive oil-based product, and the cost of those repairs is higher than ever.

"It's been devastating," said City Manager Robert Betts. "We just don't know what to do."

Some road departments are delaying major construction projects because they need to spend money instead on patching potholes.

In East St. Louis, the city is filling only the deepest and largest holes — leaving some that are large enough to break axles and puncture the tires of vehicles, including city ambulances, police cars and fire trucks.

The winter was brutal in many parts of the country, bringing blizzards and heavy snow. The Midwest was hard-hit.

Chicago already has filled 120,000 potholes since Dec. 1, about 50,000 more than during the same period last year. Motorists are finding travels take longer and are more treacherous.

Chicago officials concluded that the north end of Lake Shore Drive, one of the most scenic routes in the city, was so pockmarked that the speed limit, which is normally raised from 40 mph to 45 mph in the summer, will stay at the slower speed limit.

"We haven't done that in at least 15 years," said Brian Steele, transportation department spokesman.

Indianapolis is using more asphalt than in previous years and paying $52 a ton instead of last year's $40. The city is also searching for more money so crews don't have to cut back on roadwork.

In Des Moines, Bill Stowe, the assistant city manager for public works and engineering, said prices for asphalt and gasoline are climbing at exactly the wrong time. This winter the city had to spend $800,000 more than the $3-million it had budgeted to clean up 58 inches of snow. Then there was $70,000 to fill the potholes — more than four times the amount spent in recent years.

Winter storms punch holes in roads, budgets 04/11/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 10:32am]
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