Driven Crazy by Potholes

March 11, 1994

Just when you thought it was safe to go on the road again. . .

Not to jinx ourselves, but there is a chance we have seen the last of the snow, sleet and other "weather events" that can make even a short drive to the market a harrowing experience. Yet the effects on the roadways from what is generally considered the worst local winter in decades will not be fading anytime soon.

Goodbye, ice. Hello, potholes.

This trying winter has produced the biggest collection of street divots in recent memory. Divots is actually too tame a word for some of the holes that lately have separated many a car from its hubcaps. Try crater, pit, gaping maw. These are holes that would frighten the shark from "Jaws."

Perhaps the only people happy about the situation -- besides auto mechanics -- are the kids in northern Baltimore County who reportedly have been using a particularly pockmarked road to give their mountain bikes a good workout.

Local governments certainly are not thrilled with the task they face. They must patch holes and repave entire stretches of roads by somehow replenishing public works budgets depleted weeks ago by the inordinate snow- and ice-falls.

Highway officials in Howard County do not keep pothole counts, but they estimate that the damage to local roads at least doubles what they have encountered previously. The severity of the winter has led the public works department to ask the county government for an additional $1.1 million for the current fiscal year -- $210,000 of which would go toward road repairs.

Elsewhere, Baltimore County, which does keep count of its potholes, is projecting a final tally well above its past record -- 48,900, set last year. In Baltimore City, road crews began patching 1,000 holes a day just after the snow and ice storms of mid-January. And Harford County officials concluded the problem was so bad that they would need the public's help; thus began Harford's "pothole hotline," which was buzzing with reports of pothole sightings shortly after its implementation in late January.

It has been a long, difficult winter. As one Howard highway official said, "I hope I never see another one like it for at least 10 years." Which, as he explained, would be exactly one year after his planned retirement.

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