See how much Bellingham and Whatcom County spent fixing potholes last year
Potholes are the bone-rattling, jaw-jarring bane of springtime roadways.
They're universally hated, both by drivers who try to dodge them and by the public-works crews who patch and fill them.
David Onkels of Bellingham fell victim to a road rut that wrecked his day in March on Pacific Highway near Slater Road.
"I hit that going northbound out of the roundabout onto Pacific Highway and my right front tire almost immediately went flat," Onkels wrote in an email.
"The repair cost was a little more than $200 for replacing the tire and a check of the suspension revealed no additional damage," he said. "I called Whatcom County Public Works the following morning and they almost immediately dispatched a crew to repair the damaged pavement."
Onkels' car isn't the only casualty of a crater-sized cavity in the road.
Potholes cost U.S. motorists an estimated $3 billion annually in repairs, from punctured tires and bent wheels to damaged suspensions and other problems, according to a 2016 AAA report.
Dan Larsen, street maintenance supervisor for the city of Bellingham, said he hears countless citizen complaints about potholes in the 350 miles of Bellingham streets and alleys.
"People always give 'em a name. They're always 'bad,' 'angry,' 'huge,' " Larsen said.
'Mean' is another one," he said. "I hear that one quite a bit. And they're always 'growing.' "
Public works humor aside, both city and county officials take potholes seriously, and crews try to fix them before they're reported, said Joe Rutan, assistant director of public works for Whatcom County.
Potholes might seem worse on the 1,000 miles of Whatcom County roads where speed limits can be up to 55 mph, as opposed to the 25 mph in most cities, he said.
"The same pothole that is inconvenient on one road is a death trap on another," Rutan said. "We don't like potholes because they cause damage and they're dangerous."
They're expensive, too.
Whatcom County spent $138,500 last year on labor, materials and other costs related to fixing potholes, Rutan said.
Bellingham spent $183,000, said Eric Johnston, assistant director of public works.
Officials said it costs between $74 to $200 to send a truck and a crew with some "cold patch" to fill a hole.
"If you don't fix them, they just get worse," Johnston said.
But sometimes a quick fix is just the beginning.
"Potholes are an expression of something else that's going on," Rutan said. Sometimes an entire section of road must be rebuilt.
To get a pothole patched, Rutan suggested calling Whatcom County Public Works Maintenance and Operations — or the city where the pothole is located.
Potholes on county roads can be reported online too.
Potholes form when water seeps into the ground under the asphalt and cars driving over the area compacts and degrades the asphalt.
Even worse for roads are the freeze-thaw cycles that many Whatcom County roads endure during the winter.
It's not so bad this year, especially compared to the brutal winter of 2016-17 that had several rounds of lowland snow accompanied by freezing temperatures, road officials said.
Busier roads get a higher priority for repairs than a side road with less traffic, Rutan said.
"Ten potholes on a lower-volume road would have a lower priority than one bad one on the Hannegan Road," he said.
Report a pothole
To report a pothole in Whatcom County, first figure out if the pothole is on a city, county or state roadway, then call the appropriate agency.
Whatcom County: 360-778-6400 or go online to whatcomcounty.us/2595/22275/Road-Maintenance-Service-Request.
Blaine: 360-332-8820 or 360-815-0494 for after-hours emergencies.
Ferndale: Call 360-384-4006; if after hours and a danger to the public, call 911.
State highways: (Pole, Badger, Mount Baker Highway, etc.): Email email@example.com or go online to the WSDOT page on Facebook. If urgent, call 360-757-5963.