Potholes in Bellingham-area streets and roads are the worst they’ve been in years after an especially cold winter, according to Whatcom County and Bellingham city officials.
Michael Olinger, Bellingham’s superintendent of maintenance, said the number of Bellingham potholes has increased over the last five to seven years. Most of the potholes have formed on streets that were already in need of some form of maintenance.
339 Whatcom County potholes were filled in January.
276 Whatcom County potholes were filled in February.
558 Whatcom County potholes were filled in March.
“Right now some of our major issues are on Texas Street,” Olinger wrote in an email. “We have pushed these repairs out to our contractor to have the damaged asphalt repaired, but our contractor has not gotten to this work yet.”
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Whatcom County Engineer Joe Rutan said his team filled 339 potholes in January, 276 potholes in February and 558 potholes in March on Whatcom County roads. Some of the worst potholes formed west of Ferndale.
“That is more than in past years,” Rutan said. “Usually a pothole is the expression of something else. Water is getting into the roadway. … That’s a very common way for potholes to form.”
Depending on how bad the potholes have gotten, Olinger said they can take anywhere from a few minutes to 30 days to fill.
The city regularly gets complaints from citizens by phone, email (at AskPW@cob.org), Olinger wrote in an email. “Most often the complaints are letting us know that there is a pothole forming at a given location. Once we receive this information, a customer service request is created and assigned to a crew member to be investigated.”
Rutan gets plenty of complaints about potholes at the county level, too. He said he appreciates the feedback from county residents – that’s how he knows where to find and repair potholes.
“We appreciate people understanding and being patient,” Rutan said. “And when they see the crews out working, please respect flaggers and slow down.”
$800,000 Bellingham maintenance department’s annual budget for filling potholes and maintaining roadways.
Sometimes potholes get so bad that the city can’t fix them on its own. In that case, the city is forced to contract the job to outside companies, Olinger said.
Cost to city, county
Filling some of the worst potholes can cost Bellingham thousands of dollars.
The city doesn’t have a specific budget for potholing, Olinger added. The maintenance department operates on about $800,000 per year, which is used in part to fill potholes and maintain Bellingham roadways.
Whatcom County set aside nearly $14 million this year for road maintenance — that covers about 950 miles of county roadways and 161 bridges, Rutan said. Within that budget, there’s a line-item for fixing potholes.
Certainly if it’s a safety issue, we’re always going to deal with safety first. Also, we’ll look at the average daily traffic of the road.
Joe Rutan, Whatcom County engineer
“Here we are three months into the year, and we’re eating it up at a quicker pace than we’d like,” Rutan said.
“We’re not sitting here flushed with money,” Rutan added. “We have to make wise, thoughtful decisions with the public’s funds to preserve safety. It makes what we do every day a little more acute.”
Rutan said Whatcom County residents can expect to see their roads repaired in a purposeful order.
First, the county will fill the most dangerous potholes. Then, county officials will fill potholes in order of average daily traffic.
“Certainly if it’s a safety issue, we’re always going to deal with safety first,” Rutan said. “Also, we’ll look at the average daily traffic of the road. We have limited funds, people and sunlight, doing 558 potholes in a month. If we have potholes on Hannigan, they might take precedence, and should take precedence, over a road that has two houses on it.”
“We have a lot of roads that are busy, and a lot where the only people who drive on them are the people who live on them,” Rutan added. “A 50 mile-per-hour road versus a 25 mile-per-hour road with two people who live on it.”
I’m also a motorcycle rider and a bike rider. An outcome of this winter is you need to pay more attention, even more than normal, to the roadway.
Joe Rutan, Whatcom County engineer
Though both the city and the county put an emphasis on filling potholes after the winter season, Rutan said unfortunately the process doesn’t help prevent any future damage to roadways.
He hopes the county maintenance department can free up some money in its budget to address the underlying issues behind Whatcom County’s worsening potholes – instead of just filling them.
“Potholes outside my house, they’ve been filling for 15 years,” Rutan said. “But when they actually re-paved that road, we had a drainage problem that kept that pothole showing up.”
“You put some asphalt on there, that may not solve it or keep it from getting worse,” he added.
In the meantime, Rutan recommends Whatcom County residents take special care on roadways often riddled with potholes this time of year.
“I’m also a motorcycle rider and a bike rider,” Rutan said. “An outcome of this winter is you need to pay more attention, even more than normal, to the roadway.”