Chicago's potholes are multiplying by the thousands. In just the first six weeks of this year, the transportation department said crews — working around the clock — have dumped some 2,000 tons of patching material into more than 125,000 potholes. The city is almost certain to fill more than the 625,000 potholes patched last year.
The cost of the extra works mounts quickly. In Moline, for example, the team that handles the water mains has in just the last two weeks clocked 300 hours of overtime out of a budget that allotted 1,300 hours for the entire year.
Michigan State Transportation Director Kirk Steudle said an extra $30 million, a third more than budgeted, is needed to pay for the near-constant snowplowing. The cost and usage of salt has doubled in just a year.
The proliferation of potholes exposes what experts have long said: Many of the nation's roads are in such poor shape that they are more vulnerable to crumbling.
"Many cities have ignored the minor cracks and potholes, and now they're getting big," said Steve Schlickman, executive director of the Urban Transportation Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Not only that, but the rapid repairs may actually make conditions worse.
Munir Nazzal, an assistant professor of civil engineering at Ohio University, led a study that found patching asphalt only stays in place for a matter of weeks, days or even hours before traffic scatters it. And snowplow blades can actually fill potholes with snow, where it melts, seeps into the road surface and freezes.
"They're not solving the problem at all," Nazzal said.
Art Cabello has seen that for himself.
"It's really bad out there," said Cabello, manager of a Chicago tire shop that is welding far more broken rims than he can ever remember. "The other day I welded a rim and 20 minutes later the customer drove by and hit" another pothole right in front of the shop. The axle broke, and the car had to be towed away.
Associated Press writers Karen Matthews in New York; Barbara Rodriguez in Des Moines, Iowa; Mike Householder in Detroit; and David Eggert in Lansing., Mich., contributed to this report.