By Juwan Armstrong
San Diego resident Drew Morris was driving in the Mission Valley neighborhood on Friars Road when he suddenly came upon large pothole. His car jumped and then began making a funny noise. It wasn’t until he arrived home that he realized the extent of the damage.
“After I checked out my car after hitting the pothole, I already knew that it was going to have to spend a lot of money for the damages,” he said. “I was very frustrated because that is money going down the drain.”
Morris is not alone.
Potholes have been a longtime issue for the city of San Diego. The area was ranked eighth worst in the nation in terms of bad roads, with 51 percent considered to be in poor condition, according to the study by TRIP, a transportation research group based in Washington, D.C.
The roads that are in poor condition are costing the average motorist more than $800 in annual vehicle expenses, according to the study.
The report listed 51 percent of San Diego’s major thoroughfares as being in poor condition – more than twice the national average for large population areas. In addition, only 10 percent of major streets in the San Diego areas were judged to be in good condition.
Potholes can be located across the city in each of the nine districts. There are approximately 3,000 miles of streets and roads that contains potholes. The districts that contain the most traffic often have more potholes, said Councilman Mark Kersey.
“Potholes are found in every neighborhood,” he said. “It is really dependent on where you see more traffic in higher traffic concentrated areas. It could be Downtown or Pacific Beach, but we have a lot of potholes in city.”
Potholes are formed after a crack develops within the asphalt, allowing moisture to seep into the crack. The moisture causes the street to degrade and eventually leads to the asphalt crumbling. Under the weight of constant traffic, the asphalt collapses and becomes a hole in the road.
While potholes typically do not cause harm to citizens, it does cause harm to their wallets. Pothole damage has cost U.S. drivers $15 billion in vehicle repairs over the last five years, according to a new study by the American Automobile Association (AAA). The study found that the average repair bill is $306 for pothole damage, and the most common pothole-related damage is to a tire, wheel or suspension.
Truck driver Mario Escalera, from the city’s pothole repair crew said that potholes can wreak havoc on a vehicle.
“It can ruin the tires, anything underneath the car or truck. Also, it can ruin the car’s transmission,” he said. “It depends on how deep and how wide the pothole is.”
The relationship between fixing a pothole and reporting a complaint has proven to be problematic as well, Kersey said. The city used to rely heavily on a complaint system, however, the system proved to be inefficient.
The complaint system had the pothole repair crew drive to areas where the complaints were located and fix that one area. Upon arrival, the crew went to the street, evaluated the condition of the pothole, and decided if the street needed to be repaired.
“Not only would we have them drive from the [San Diego State University] campus area to La Jolla and then downtown, but we were wasting fuel and time,” Kersey said.
Instead of having the repair crew attempt to fix potholes in multiple areas in the city, Kersey had the repair crew focus on one area through out the day.
“Now we will send them to one area all day and have them fix all the potholes in that area for that day,” he said.
For a driver to receive any form of refund from the city for car damage, he or she must provide detailed evidence proving that the pothole indeed caused the damages. The evidence includes photos, time and location and size of the pothole.
Last year, Mayor Kevin L. Faulconer and council members Sherri Lighter, Scott Sherman and Kersey passed a budget proposal that will significantly increase the city’s staffing for pothole repairs.
With the increase in the budget to about $18 million, the city can have multiple pothole repair crews go to a particular part of the city.
“We have about five to six pothole crews that go out, and they are in different parts of the city at different times,” Kersey said. He said the city increased the pothole repair budget to reflect both an improving economy and in order to fill potholes more quickly.
“They are not really expensive because there is not a lot of material. It really depends on the size, but we can actually fill them up quickly,” he said.
In order for a pothole to be repaired by the city, there has to be a request filed on the San Diego City’s Street Division website.
“The whole process starts at the offices,” said Escalera. “Once we receive the service number, the paperwork and the addresses, we go out and patch whatever we find that is wrong.”
The city’s main focus for the upcoming fiscal year will include the repaving of entire streets and roads instead of simply filling potholes. The plan is to repave about 300 miles of roads and streets which, over the next five years, will be approximately 1,000 miles or a third of the entire city paved.
“It is a pretty substantial amount of work, but it’s the biggest complaint we get, and it is the biggest visible sign of neglect from the city,” Kersey said.