CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Snow-weary drivers and cash-strapped road departments across West Virginia and Virginia are facing a new challenge: an obstacle course of tire-popping potholes that threaten to knock the alignment out of tires and budgets alike.
Melting snow and ice from a barrage of winter storms that buried parts of both states are revealing thousands of potholes.
"All you've got to do is drive down nearly any road in the state and you see potholes," said Joe Deneault, chairman of West Virginians for Better Transportation. "And it's only going to get worse as we come into spring."
The costs of repair couldn't come at a worse time for both states.
West Virginia has already spent nearly $3 million more than the $54 million budgeted for winter snow clearing, said West Virginia Division of Highways spokesman Brent Walker.
Virginia dipped into its reserves after exhausting its $79 million budget, but still has about $28 million for asphalt and concrete patching, said Virginia Department of Transportation spokesman Jeff Caldwell.
Both states plan aggressive pothole repairs once Mother Nature starts cooperating.
"We are not going to hold back just because we are over budget," Walker said. It's possible, though, that spring and summer maintenance, paving and mowing may take hits to get the state back on budget.
On Thursday, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell called for a "pothole blitz" in March, directing road crews to make patching up the potholes a priority.
Despite the dangers and aggravations, some residents seem to be taking it in stride.
"What are you going to do about it?" asked Ken Lowe, an elevator repairman from Charleston. "Taxes are high enough already."
Henry Custer of Kanawha City chalked it up to life in West Virginia.
"It's always that way," the retired insurance agent said.
Potholes form when moisture seeps into pavement and then freezes, expands and thaws. Then weakened pavement crumbles under the weight of heavy trucks and cars.
This winter's unrelenting cold and storms has made it virtually impossible for either state to make even temporary repairs.
Both states have been hammered by record-breaking, back-to-back storms that dumped up to 3 feet of snow in some locations.
Caldwell said the frequent freeze-thaw cycle is creating potholes faster than crews can repair them.
Cold patches work in cooler temperatures, but require a dry surface, something that's rare this season in both states. The more permanent hot mix patch requires consistent temperatures above 50 degrees.
In Morgantown in northern West Virginia, Public Works Director Terry Hough said the inhospitable weather has left "some real doozies."
"We just can't get to them and we end up with some monster potholes," she said.
Joanie Conley of Logan County said roads in the southern part of West Virginia are just as bad.
She was looking to spend between $365 and $600 for new tires and an alignment after her car hit a pothole "big enough to swallow you up."
"It's impossible to miss every hole," she said of her 65-mile commute to her Charleston nursing job. "There's lots of them, but my car is not a luxury. I have to have it to work."
Deneault said West Virginia could help drivers by investing in better roads.
A transportation study his group commissioned last year found that rough roads cost each motorist an average of $280 annually in extra vehicle operating costs.
"I think what we're seeing is the effect of a lot of years of inadequate funding," Deneault said. "We've gotten by because we haven't had this kind of winter and now we're paying the piper."
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