Beneath puddles, they hide from unsuspecting axles. They disguise themselves as snow. They lurk in wait to wreck undercarriages, tires, rims.
Potholes have started to make their annual appearance. They’re harbingers, announcing a season of misery for cars and trucks, motorists and cyclists alike.
Mechanics know it, and city and state road crews are doing their best to stay one shovel of asphalt ahead of the giant craters that have begun burgeoning beneath rapidly eroding roadways.
On Valentine’s Day, drivers hurtling along Route 1A in East Boston had no love lost for a gaping pothole that gobbled nearly a dozen cars and drew the attention of State Police and the Boston Police Department.
And if you think this winter is worse than last year, you’re right. A lot worse.
Between Dec. 1 and Feb. 15, 2,426 pothole cases were reported to the City of Boston’s 311 nonemergency constituent services line. In 2016 at roughly the same time, the tally stood at 1,848. That’s a 31 percent increase. Blame it on the weather (last year was pretty mild).
It’s the goal of Boston’s streets chief, Chris Osgood, to have crews attend to pothole complaints within 24 hours.
For this fiscal year, the city’s Public Works Department is set to spend an estimated $110,000 on pothole repairs. Upward of 10 crews are expected to be fixing potholes throughout the city on Friday.
Osgood said roadways took a beating with the recent Super Bowl parade, the snow and deep-freeze that immediately followed, and temperatures that then rose into the 50s. Winter’s freeze-thaw-freeze tango is what leads to potholes. Complaints filed online are constantly being addressed.
“We want to be able to take care of it before you hit that pothole,” Osgood said.
Bruce Sedgeman, a mechanic for nearly 40 years and owner of Bruce’s Automobile Services in Hanover, said this year isn’t as bad as2015, when the snow seemed never-ending.
“You normally see a lot of blown tires, bent rims, ball joints take a beating,” Sedgeman said. “You definitely notice it now and toward the end of spring.”
A 39-year-old Uber driver from Malden said he encounters loads of potholes on the job, and he can count the casualties: three tires in eight months.
At the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, the agency rolled out a tracking system — called a pothole dashboard — last year as a pilot program in Western Massachusetts. The data need a few years to be truly reliable, but since Jan. 1, The department has addressed some 1,309 potholes in Highway Districts 2 and 3, which includes most of Western and Central Massachusetts. The department patches about 20,000 potholes a year. Jonathan Gulliver, the District 3 highway director, said he wouldn’t disagree that it feels like there are more potholes this year than in 2016.
He said crews have two big jobs right now: filling potholes and removing snow and ice.
They use a cold patch, which is a temporary fix, until they can fix it later in the year, or they use a hot patch, which can last until the entire roadway is repaved.
“You’re dealing with a piece of pavement that keeps getting hit by truck and car tires,” Gulliver said. “That’s going to erode away until you have a much larger problem.”