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Paying For Potholes: Problem Grows Earlier, More Costly This Spring

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Stan Bush By Stan Bush
CBS4 Reporter
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DENVER (CBS4)- Colorado is in the middle of a pothole epidemic nearly two months ahead of schedule. The thousands of holes on the road are getting worse by the hour.

“We have a lot of potholes in this area,” said Crystal Morgan, spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Transportation. “We see a lot of potholes and a lot of cars that got over them and the damage that is inflicted due to that”

Roads are in a state of disrepair across Colorado. With many of the worst potholes on busy highways and in the middle of lanes, hitting a pothole can be unavoidable and no fault of the driver. But getting compensated for the damage can be a challenge itself.

CDOT determines what damage is their responsibility on a case-by-case basis.

“Sometimes we don’t know about them (potholes) prior to something happening. We encourage people to let us know so we can take care of it,” said Morgan. She says claims are filed through the agencies Risk Management Division.

In Denver damage claims can be even harder to get settled. The Denver City Attorney considers whether a pothole that damaged a car had been reported to the city first before a settlement can be reached.

It’s likely both offices will be overwhelmed with requests for payment this spring.

“I think we’re seeing more this year than usual and I think we’re seeing them earlier than usual,” said Nancy Kuhn of Denver Public Works.

Pothole season usually begins in late April, after the two snowiest months of the year in Colorado.

Road crews are now bracing for one of the longest potholes seasons in recent memory. Erratic weather bouncing from extreme colds and unseasonable highs has fueled a climate ripe for the formation of potholes.

“We haven’t had a lot of snow accumulation, we’ve had a lot of snow events,” said Kuhn.

Potholes form as temperatures rapidly flux from freezing cold to spring warm. Water on and under the roadway expands and contracts as it freezes and thaws. In a few hours a small crack can become a tire swallowing hole.

A dozen crews fix pot holes everyday there is decent weather in Denver.

Ken Leichtle spent a full shift with Denver Public Works sealing potholes near 44th and Tennyson in the city’s Highland neighborhood Monday. His crew was so busy they ran out of material an hour before their shift ended.

While using his last shovel full of asphalt to cover an exposed streetcar rail, Leichtle admitted the patches he labored over probably won’t last “If water gets under it, it’ll pop back up again.”

It’s little comfort when you consider the immensity of the project in Denver alone. More than 21,000 potholes have been repaired in the city this year. With a busier year than average it could easily eclipse 100,000 before the end of 2014.

Last year Denver spent $1.7 million just to fix 69,000 potholes. That cost will also likely rise.

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