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Welcome to Michigan: Pothole Central

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Hallelujah, it’s March. Goodbye, winter blues and SAD, hello dog days of summer. Now that spring has sprung, the snow has melted, and the little birdies are a-courting, it’s time to put winter behind us and look forward to sunny days. I can tell warm days are before us when the Pure Michigan ads come on, voiced in the dulcet tones of Tim Allen, former Michigander and current voice-over king. I get the warm fuzzies thinking about summer in Michigan, Campbell’s Soup, the new Chevy Volt, and let’s not forget, Buzz Lightyear.image of pothole

Here in the Rust Belt, along with the annual return of robins and Canadian geese, the sprouting of green things from sodden ground, and the slow disappearance of mountains of dirty snow, we have something else to look forward to: enormous, car-eating potholes.

It’s a common complaint, a yearly grousing. With just a hint of a mid-winter thaw, the pavement begins to pull away. One day the road to work is relatively smooth, the next day there’s a hole you could take a bath in. It’s happened to me: rim damage and a flat tire. But that was good news; I could have bottomed out my gas tank like my husband did with his car.

In Michigan, we are very well known for our potholes. People who know better don’t spend spring here, no matter what Tim Allen says. Even Ohioans and Indianans know better than to take a cruise into the state during pothole season, which stretches from mid-February to sometime in May, when the temporary work trucks make way for the real construction.

I’ve lived all over and puzzle over the pothole problem every year. Why is Michigan so hard hit? It’s not as cold here as it is in Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, and Alaska, and drivers actually have to use chains in the Rockies, yet late-winter motoring in the Mitten is like traversing a Third World country. Our southern neighbors have impeccable roads; I’m especially enamored of Ohio’s slick pavement. What makes other states have smooth roadways?

John R Road north of Eleven Mile has been decaying since late December—a few months early. It’s now like driving on the moon, so I avoid the area, taking back roads and side streets.

I like to think our pothole problem is due to the fact that we have terrible road construction to begin with. This is likely due in part to a state that can’t afford decent roads, or one that is giving contracts to sub-standard contractors. Most of the time we play catch-up on the pothole situation, and the hazardous bridge situation, and everything else. Each summer since I’ve moved here, there has been constant work on I-94, the major artery to Chicago. The road is shut down for miles, one lane in each direction. The yearly shuttle moves from downtown Detroit, to the stretch between Battle Creek and Kalamazoo, to just outside of either far border.

I’m no expert, but I’m fairly certain we do not dig deep enough. I’ve seen road construction in Germany, and construction workers there dig deep. I’m also not sure what grade of asphalt is being put down. For all I know, there are bands of gypsy asphalters on our highways just as there are in the neighborhoods. “Re-pave your driveway for $1,000?” Yeah, and you get what you pay for.

There are hourly media pothole alerts on the radio, along with the traffic reports featuring fallen couches on I-75. (I don’t know why, but there are more wayward couches lining Michigan freeways than anywhere else.) There is an official pothole-spotting website.

My plan of action is simple. First of all, don’t drive like an idiot. Slowly, like a granny, does it for me. Of course, I am a Prius-driving woman, and my car is not exactly known for jack-rabbitting to a quick start. A driver can scale (or sink) into a pothole and come out unscathed. Just remember: Speed is your enemy. For that reason, I stay away from freeways during the spring thaw, too. Hit a pothole the right way at 75 m.p.h. and you might total your car.

I also tamp down my urge to fly through puddles during this treacherous time. A puddle could be a small indentation, or it could be a foot and a half deep. Do I want to take the chance? In one word: NO. Walking is a good option. Like many people, I tend to get fat during the winter months, and with gas prices skyrocketing into unknown stratospheres, I could save some money.

A word to the wise and unwise: No one wants to pay for new rims and tires. Not even you.

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About Joanne Huspek

I write. I read. I garden. I cook. I eat. And I love to talk about all of the above.