Kansas City’s pothole problems are here early. But it’s too cold to fix them for good

Those persistent and always irritating potholes appear to be popping up almost everywhere in the Kansas City metro.

In fact, so many potholes that the Missouri Department of Transportation is asking motorists to alert it of holes’ locations earlier in the year than normal.

Now, when road crews are not shoveling snow and plowing away ice, they are filling a patchwork of potholes throughout the region.

Extreme Arctic weather, coupled with Kansas City’s recent massive snowfall and freezing rains, are to blame.

Potholes are caused when water seeps into cracks in the pavement, freezes, expands and pops out pavement chunks. This season’s freeze-thaw cycle has caused a lot of potholes, said Kansas City City Hall spokesman Chris Hernandez.

“Yes, we know there are many potholes popping up right now, and we are hard at work fixing them,” Hernandez said. Depending on needs and staffing, 3-6 crews are out patching potholes.

“We can put more crews on pothole duty on days that we are not salting or plowing due to storms, since these are the same employees who perform both kinds of work,” he said.

As of Wednesday of this week, Kansas City received 389 calls in the month of January about potholes to its 311 Center. Also as of Wednesday, 223 of those had been patched and crews are working to fill the other 166.

So far, the average is 5.3 days to fill after a pothole has been reported, Hernandez said.

“We respond as the calls come in, and each day we group the locations together by neighborhood and hit the arterials first,” he said.

Yet, a few residents have voiced their displeasure with how the city has responded.

One Kansas Citian even tweeted at Mayor Sly James, “the sheer number of potholes I have to skillfully dodge on Ward Parkway make me question where all my tax dollars are going.”

James tweeted back and explained that the weather has made patching the problem areas more difficult. He added that, “Our people work their butts off for this city. That’s where your tax dollars go.”

This week’s extremely low temperatures affect the ability to make permanent repairs, Hernandez said.

The “hot mix” used to patch potholes will crack or explode if installed at a low temperature. When it’s really cold, the city’s crews pack potholes with “cold mix,” which allows safe driving but is a short-term fix.

Hernandez said, when the weather warms up, crews will need to go back out and use the hot mix to make more permanent repairs.

In Kansas, potholes have not been unusually serious prior to the start of the year, said Laurie A. Arellano, spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Transportation.

Crews try to patch cracks in pavement before potholes develop. January has been challenging for road crews due to the all the moisture and very low temps, and all the plowing, Arellano said.

“We realize the lane closures cause delays, but we ask drivers to please exercise an abundance of patience and put away all the distractions. It takes only a second to drift over and hit a worker,” she said.

MoDOT says their crews try to make repairs within a day to a week after receiving notification of a pothole. However, the department’s work does not include residential or city streets. It is only responsible for highways, bridges, overpasses and lettered routes.

“Typically, when the weather is more favorable, it takes only a day or two after receiving the notification,” said Markl Johnson, a MoDOT spokesman. “But with the weather and the number of potholes, it may take a little longer. When the temps are below 35-degrees, pothole patching won’t adhere as much.”

Crews must clean all debris and water from each pothole. That may require drying the hole with a blower. Then a tacky oil solution is added. After that, a cold mix (with asphalt) is added to the hole.

The mix is then tamped down. Depending on the situation, a patch can last one day to several years. It all depends on the conditions. Not to mention traffic volume in the area, Johnson said.

“Because there’s so many of them… we’re just trying to fix them,” Johnson said. “Repeatedly going from cold to warm is the root cause of potholes.“

Motorists need to be patient, he said.

To report a pothole, Kansas City residents should call 311.

MoDOT can be reached by its Customer Service number: 1-888-ASK-MoDOT. In Kansas, motorists and residents are encouraged to send an email to the Department of Transportation at KDOT#PublicInfo@ks.gov.

Tagging potholes’ location information on social media with the hashtag #PotholePatrol is another option. While it is the fastest way to report holes, a KDOT spokeswoman says, “it doesn’t guarantee the pothole goes to the top of the list.”

Glenn E. Rice covers crime, courts and breaking news for The Kansas City Star, where he’s worked since 1988. Rice is a Kansas City native and a graduate of the University of Central Missouri.