Wichita tries to put dent in pothole outbreak

Wichita's freeze-thaw-freeze-thaw weather is busting up blacktop and taking its toll on city streets. If you're not careful, it could dent a tire rim or throw off the alignment of your vehicle.

Public works officials are accustomed to chasing pothole complaints this time of year.

But they're getting more than usual.

Last year, the city filled about 4,000 potholes between Jan. 1 and today.

This year: 13,000.

That's because of several significant snowfalls and plenty of days where snow melts enough to seep into cracks only to later expand as it freezes and pop open new potholes.

"This year has really been kind of a weird year," said Don Cradduck, the city's street maintenance supervisor. "The temps have been so off the wall."

Potholes are usually filled with a temporary asphalt mix. It costs roughly $6 per pothole.

If you run over a big pothole at high speed, it can cost a lot more than that, local auto repair experts say.

"We get them in here all the time where someone hit a pothole and it destroys a tire," said Mike Ryno, manager of Tracy's Automotive in downtown Wichita.

He said dented tire rims and alignment problems are most common.

The cost to repair such damage ranges widely.

Wheel repairs typically range from $75 to $150 and alignment starts around $60, Ryno said.

Derrick Craig, a mechanic at Westside Automotive in Goddard, said hitting potholes repeatedly can also damage ball joints, which are part of the suspension system.

Customers usually don't attribute problems to potholes, he said.

"It may have already been bad," he said. "But they hit a pothole and say 'Oh that was pretty vicious, I should pay more attention.' "

Ball joint repairs usually run from $250 to $450.

A growing problem

The city fills about 50,000 potholes a year.

It added a crack-sealing team in 2005 to cut down on areas where water can seep into the pavement.

But as the city grows and streets age, it gets harder to keep up.

Here's a look at pothole patching estimates though the years as reported in city budget documents:

1998: 39,103

1999: 40,000

2000: 46,304

2001: 68,814

2002: 41,879

2003: 53,217

2004: 69,240

2005: 52,976

The city stopped tracking potholes in its budget in subsequent years, but projected 50,000 a year.

Snowfalls have also led to overtime for snow removal crews, but the city still has plenty of brine that it spreads on streets to prevent icing, Cradduck said.

The workload leads to more expenses, Public Works Director Chris Carrier said.

"But, I think we have been relatively successful in managing the overtime so it won't have as big of a budget impact as it could have," he said in an e-mail. "The bottom line is that snow removal is considered a public safety function and will get funded so we can do what we need to do. We just have to make up for any overruns somewhere else in the budget."