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Pothole Repairs Cost Northeastern Cities Millions Following Unrelenting Winter

Cities are trying to keep up with the plethora of potholes after much of the northern part of the country was blasted with record-smashing heaps of snow and frigid air.

And this year "it's a demolition derby," said Butch Aurora, co-owner of Whitey's Tire Service in Brooklyn.

Even though potholes seem to pop up out of nowhere as the weather steps out of winter, the time of year is no coincidence and the warmer weather that most people welcome comes with a steep cost to cities and car owners.

Potholes are formed through a freeze-thaw cycle that weakens the pavement. The process begins when rain and snow seep into the soil below the road through either cracks or the sides of the road.

According to the Minnesota Department of Transportation, when temperatures drop, the moisture below freezes causing the ground to expand and pavement to rise. The expanding pavement weakens and can begin to crack, letting even more water and snow seep through.

When temperatures rise, the ground below sinks back but the pavement often remains raised creating a gap between the two. Then with the added weight of vehicles, the pavement can abruptly collapse into the space between it and the ground creating dangerous cavities in the road.

Road salt and the aggressive equipment used to clear snow from roads are no help to the problem either, Aurora said.

Aside from costing cities money and time, potholes can damage cars in many ways including blowing up tires, bending rims and knocking the car's wheel alignment, Aurora added.

Boston

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announced $30 million toward winter repairs in his Winter Recovery Assistance Program (WRAP), some of which the State Department of Transportation will use to fix potholes.

Using a formula of size and population to determine apportionment to cities and towns, WRAP is setting aside by far the most money to Boston - a total of $2.2 million.

Boston Public Works Department has used more than 600 tons of hot top to fill over 4,000 potholes this year and has spent $60,000 in the process.

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Last year, more than 16,000 potholes were filled setting a new recording, said Bonnie McGilpin, a spokesperson for Boston's Mayor Marty Walsh.

"This year it is just unbelievable," said Christos Cassandras, a professor at the University of Boston who is collaborating with Boston to run an app that locates potholes using a phone's GPS and vibrations collected from its accelerometer.

Cassandras said he has to swerve around four potholes on his drive to work every morning. If he didn't swerve, he could risk hundreds of dollars in damages to his car.

"Street Bump," Boston's pothole app, is set on tackling the problem in a new, more efficient way that is also convenient for citizens. Available for free download, the app is used when driving and it collects real-time data about a road's smoothness.

"With this winter having been so bad, the ability to get this information is invaluable," Cassandras said.

Cities spend time locating potholes that turn out to be unfixable - or that aren't even there - Cassandras said. But professors at the Boston University use algorithms to classify data collected by "Street Smart" users and let the city know where the real potholes are.

The app collects data in three directions, including left and right, when a car might swerve around a pothole. If many cars are swerving in the same spot, it could mean that there is pothole.

New York City

New York City expects $15 million in pothole damage from this winter.

The city has already filled 193,256 potholes throughout this winter. More than 92 percent of these potholes were filled in 2015.

Last year, New York had already filled 242,878 potholes between Jan. 1 and mid-March, but this number is deceiving, Bonny Tsang, a spokesperson from the NYC department of transportation, explained.

"This year's winter had longer-sustained colder temperatures, compared to last year," said Tsang.

Because the warmer period came relatively later in the season, Tsang said, more potholes were created later than in previous years.

Philadelphia

This year, Philadelphia had filled about 12,000 potholes.

Last year at this time, the city had filled more than 20,000, according to Philly magazine, but that number is no indication that roads were worse.

Chief Highway Engineer for the Streets Department in Philadelphia told Philly Magazine that "last year there were breaks between storms."

"This year, we never had a chance to get the crew out there to do any pothole repairs. It was one (weather) event after the other," he said. "When we didn't have an event, it was just so cold out, there was not much we could do."

Three ways to help prevent expensive car damages from potholes:

1. Maintain cars recommended tire air pressure to provide a buffer between pavement and wheel's rims.

2. Maintain safe following distance to increase time to spot potholes.

3. Drive slowly during poor weather conditions to give more time to judge the severity of a pothole.

Information from Firestone Complete Auto Care