No one's counting the potholes around Elkhart County and there's no way to get a precise gauge of the number. But roads officials agree — there will likely be a bigger crop of holes in the pavement as the mercury rises, the flip side of the bitterly cold winter.
"We’ve had a really, really nasty winter, so it’s much worse than normal," said Larry Brown, Goshen's assistant street commissioner.
The cities of Elkhart and Goshen, Elkhart County and the Indiana Department of Transportation all had crews out Monday, March 10, trying to fill up the holes. It's going to take a while, though.
Between plowing all the snow from streets from the many snow storms this season and waiting for breaks in the weather that permit patching, Elkhart County is "way behind" in fixing potholes, said Elkhart County Transportation Manager Jeff Taylor.
Dips in county road maintenance funding in recent years due to tight funding exacerbate things, he added. If a roadway doesn't get routine attention as the years pass, it'll be more susceptible to potholes. "The older the road gets, the more the deterioration (and) the more you can expect potholes," he said.
Laurel McCurdy, an INDOT spokeswoman, noted that with temperature fluctuations between freezing and sub-freezing temperatures, dealing with potholes this time of year can be hit and miss. "(P)lease note that we can fill the pothole today, but if some water seeps into the cracks in a road or in the patch and it freezes and thaws, the pothole will come back," she said in an e-mail.
As such, Dave Coleman, an associate at Montieth Tire in Goshen, had some simple advice for motorists hoping to keep their tires filled and their rims straight: "Just watch the roads."
Rain and a thaw in late February resulted in a spate of around 20 bent rims at the shop, he said, the apparent result of potholes. Typically 20 is the total number of bent rims the Goshen locale handles in a season.
'THEY WILL BE FIXED'
Though it may not seem like it as you shake and rattle along the street, roads officials are well aware of the rough conditions and doing what they can to keep up. It's a priority.
"We have no choice but to fix the potholes," said Elkhart County Commissioner Mike Yoder. "They will be fixed."
County crews follow the same routes snow plows do, starting with heavier traveled numbered roads, fixing potholes they come across, said Taylor. Another crew is dedicated to responding to reports of potholes, to make sure the most problematic holes get filled.
INDOT foremen drive state-maintained roads, looking for problem spots, and also take reports from the public and law enforcement officials, according to McCurdy. On Monday, INDOT crews were repairing around a particularly problematic area of S.R. 19, the spot where Nappanee Street curves into Bristol Street, and along U.S. 33 in the Dunlap area.
Arvis Dawson, assistant to Elkhart Mayor Dick Moore, said he and Moore were driving the streets Monday looking for rough spots.
POTHOLES BREAKING THE BANK?
The seeming spike in potholes and the high priority they get could be a bad combination for budgeting. If more funds need to be earmarked to fill holes, it means less later on in the summer for repaving and other maintenance projects.
That's an issue Elkhart County could face, said Yoder. To offset extra funding going to potholes, the county may have to consider tapping funds in the Major Moves pot, meant for major road projects, he said.
Dawson said city officials are in the midst of number crunching to figure out the possible upshot of all the potholes.
Brown, the Goshen official, said the city has plenty of material to patch roads, around 42 tons. But it's come with a cost.
Goshen is in "pretty good shape" in terms of patch material, he said "but budgetary-wise, we're in pretty bad shape. I've pretty much used my allotment for patch this year and then some."
Reporter Angelle Barbazon contributed to this story.