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SDOT prepares for surge in pothole reports following winter storms

According to SDOT, crews filled more than 14,000 potholes in 2021, but it expects some of those to reappear.

SEATTLE — The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) is preparing to receive a surge of pothole reports from residents in the coming weeks following the winter storms that struck the region.

SDOT said that it filled thousands of potholes last year. However, winter storms like the one that recently hit the region can cause them to reappear. 

SDOT is asking for the public's patience as it may take longer than usual for crews to respond to each report due to lingering snow and ice.

Mark Hubbard, owner of Rick's on Aurora in Seattle, sees the consequences of potholes when drivers bring in vehicles needing new tires and says he's recently seen an increase in people needing repairs or new tires altogether. 

Hubbard said in many cases, a tire that hits a pothole is too damaged to patch up.

"You get a side-wall leak and that tire is not repairable," Hubbard said. "So that's the biggest thing about potholes, the shorter side-wall tires, they just get destroyed by it."

He cautions that as freezing temperatures continue and more snow or ice gets into potholes, they could get bigger. For overall winter driving, he recommends purchasing the best quality tire possible, especially in the Pacific Northwest- but when it comes to potholes, he says the best thing people can do is watch the road.

"If you drive the same route every day, chances are if the pothole was there today, it's going to be there, bigger, tomorrow," Hubbard said.

One of the challenges to filling the potholes caused by winter weather is the winter weather itself, which has tied up SDOT crews. SDOT says the same people who would normally be filling potholes have been busy with winter storm response. 

"Those crews that would normally be filling potholes, have been out there for the last nearly two weeks, day and night, responding to the storm, and that impacts our ability to respond to the pothole reports," said Ethan Bergerson, SDOT Media and Public Affairs lead. "These crews are real people and they've been working for nearly a couple of weeks now. Some skipped holiday plans with their families and they, honestly, after working 10 days straight, need a little bit of a rest."

SDOT says crews filled over 14,000 potholes in 2021, with 85% of them completed within three business days of the time they were reported. While they will get to current potholes when they can, they say work is prioritized in order of public safety, so less dangerous problems may have to wait. 

SDOT says potholes are caused as water finds its way into cracks in the pavement. Freezing temperatures cause the water to expand into sharp ice blocks, cutting through the pavement and breaking apart fissions in the roadway. When heavy vehicles drive over these spots, pavement breaks loose to form larger holes. 

SDOT says repairs made in cold weather don't always last, either, because the asphalt doesn't bind to the surrounding pavement well when it's too cold or wet; that means potholes that are filled now will likely need to be repaired again until the weather is warmer.

Following record snowfall in February 2019, SDOT worked well into March of that year filling potholes and repairing roads. 

Residents can report a pothole through the FindIt FixIt App, by submitting an online report, sending an email to 684-ROAD@seattle.gov or by calling at (206) 684-ROAD[7623].

SDOT also offers an interactive map for residents to check where the latest potholes have been filled.