Prevalent potholes torment drivers Dangerous craters fill area streets in wake of winter storms

February 11, 1996|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,SUN STAFF

If this has been Baltimore's winter of discontent, then, oh fellow travelers, the lowly pothole may well have more to do with our misery than Mother Nature's icy bath.

These nemeses of drivers and axles are appearing faster than weeds in spring, and they are just as vexing.

In Baltimore City alone, road crews repaired more than 20,000 potholes between Jan. 1 and Feb. 5, said Vanessa C. Pyatt, spokeswoman for Baltimore's Department of Public Works. That's twice the number of holes repaired last winter, she said. City officials say that in recent years they adopted a more efficient way of filling potholes.

Some people have taken matters into their own hands. Like Frank Monaldi of Overlea.

The kabam of trucks and cars crashing at night into the pothole in front of his house on White Avenue jolted him from slumber more than a few times this winter. This was no little chink in the road.

It measured 4 feet by 3 feet wide and 5 inches deep; a virtual cavern to any vehicle's front end.

"It got so bad the house would rattle when they hit that pothole," said Mr. Monaldi. "I called the city, but they never came."

One day, while on rounds to clients of his knife-sharpening service, he spotted a city road crew patching holes and asked for spare blacktop. Since then, he has periodically taken shovel in hand to keep the hole filled so he and his family can get a good night's sleep.

Others have not been so fortunate.

Like Mr. Monaldi's neighbors up the street, whose garden fencing was knocked down when a car hit another deep pothole on White Avenue, jumped the curb, plowed down a speed limit sign and landed in their yard.

No one was hurt, but the message was clear: Slow ahead. Potholes. Everywhere.

While public works administrators in Anne Arundel, Carroll, and Howard counties say they have not been swamped by pothole complaints, city officials say they've received more than 500 complaints about potholes in the past 40 days. And Baltimore County's public works director, C. Richard Moore, says complaints about potholes appear to be running higher than last year -- which was an unusually mild winter.

"We try to get to them as soon as we are alerted. This winter, by its nature, has been tough on the roads, and I expect by March, when the weather breaks, the road crews will be pretty busy with the repairs," Mr. Moore said.

"There are some pretty good size craters out there."

Craters? Indeed.

Like the two that appeared on the Reisterstown Road bridge over Interstate 695 Thursday night and resulted in several lanes of the road and the interstate being closed overnight.

State road crews made emergency repairs to one hole and laid a steel plank over another to prevent further damage, said Valerie Burnette Edgar, a spokeswoman for the State Highway Administration. The agency planned to have a crew work this weekend to repair that hole, she said.

Potholes like those on Reisterstown Road and elsewhere throughout the region are a calling card of winter, she said, particularly when there are seesaw periods of freezing and thawing. That makes the asphalt crumble like wet sand. Left untended, the holes will deepen and widen.

And soon they can become a nuisance, or even a peril, for motorists. Folks traveling on Cottonworth Avenue in the Mount Washington area of Baltimore will attest to that. The road is used heavily by people going to the post office, the Northwest Ice Rink and the Meadowbrook Swim Club.

So many deep, wide potholes have appeared this winter in the middle of Cottonworth that travelers drive far off to either side of the road to avoid a bone jarring thunk -- and an alignment bill.

When parents are dropping children off at the swim club and ice rink, traffic backs up on Cottonworth as motorists inch along to avoid the holes or at least spare the front ends of cars, said Craig Lurz, who uses the road frequently to take his children to swim practice.

L "They're treacherous on anyone driving fast," Mr. Lurz said.

Then there are the two "craters," as area residents call them, on Clarks Lane in West Baltimore, near the county line. They are so torturous to cars, say residents, that motorists swerve out of their lanes to avoid them.

On some area roads the potholes proliferate so that avoiding all of them is impossible.

That's the case on Southerly Road in the Brooklyn section of Baltimore County.

"It seems like the whole street is sinking," said Margaret Douglas, who lives on Southerly. "They've come a few times and filled in the holes, but they just keep coming back. It's really a bad situation."

Her solution until spring and more blacktop arrives: "I drive very slowly."

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