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Potholes rattling nerves

Greg Risling

Deborah Scott knows what street to avoid the next time she drops her husband off to work.

Last Saturday evening, her minivan was jarred when the left side of the vehicle hit a crater-shaped pothole. Scott, who has sporadic back problems, had the pain flare up again and she thinks the culprit is the deep ruts in the road.

“It felt like I had my teeth knocked out,” she said.

One of the worst streets on the South Shore leads directly to its biggest revenue earner, the casinos. Van Sickle Street, behind Embassy Suites that adjoins the Harrah’s property, is laden with potholes, some the size of a kitchen sink. The road has become a battlefield for drivers who must dodge the potholes, swerve into oncoming traffic and be aware of pedestrians.

The street is owned by its namesake, a Nevada family that owns much of the property in the Park Avenue area. Since the Van Sickles live in the Carson Valley, they aren’t privy to the recurring problems with the street. But the situation may change in the next month.

Harrah’s is attempting to work out an agreement with the Van Sickles for maintaining the street. According to John Packer, the casino’s spokesperson, Harrah’s did work in conjunction with the family approximately 25 years ago, repairing the road. After about five years, communication broke down and the street hasn’t been treated by crews on a regular basis.

“We’ve been in contact with the Van Sickles,” Packer said. “We have no problem with filling the potholes but we want to make sure Harrah’s isn’t liable for any accidents that happen.”

The Van Sickles couldn’t be reached for comment.

A look inside

Potholes are a motorist’s biggest nemesis. Alignments are thrown off, tires are blown and axles are damaged. Potholes aren’t obvious at night and vehicles are most susceptible during storms. Before you know it, a tire is clutching for smooth pavement while a hub cap goes spinning into the distance.

Many factors contribute to the formation of a pothole. Water seeps underneath the concrete and gathers in puddles. When the water freezes in cold weather, it weakens the pavement causing it to crumble. More potholes are scattered throughout high-traffic areas because of the volume of vehicles that pummel away.

In Tahoe, road crews have their hands tied. Due to climate and elevation, they can only patch up potholes in the spring when the temperature climbs and there is a break between storms. Maintenance crews have been busy the last few weeks while El Nino batters California.

“It wasn’t as bad last year as it is this year,” said Leo Tate, a street supervisor for the city of South Lake Tahoe. Working on city streets for the last 13 years, Tate said his crews have repaired roughly 100 potholes this year alone.

“When we repair potholes in the winter, it’s just a temporary fix,” he said. “We can’t effectively do the work in the snow, so any chance we get when there is good weather, we are out there.

Tate guesses that it costs $8,000 or more to have a two-man crew mend holes in a street over a 15-day period. But without the proper materials, the city can only put a Band-Aid until the summer. “Hot mix” isn’t available to the basin’s road maintenance agencies so a product aptly named “cold mix” is used in the interim. The “hot” product lasts longer and does a better job of strengthening the concrete base.

Damage is done

The mountain of black rubber is building over at Big O Tires. Owner Harry Krupp has 700 to 800 tires waiting to be recycled. He estimates that 25 percent of the discarded tires have hit the heap pile because of potholes. Last month, his staff performed 57 alignment jobs for angry customers.

“Some drivers hit a pothole so hard the tire will bend and press against the mount,” Krupp said. “At this time of year, we see a lot more customers who have damage because of potholes.”

Krupp and others recommend driving slow and staying close to the median, especially at night. Potholes tend to form at the side of the road and can rapidly expand during severe storms.

As for your street and its serious potholes, you may have to hang tight for another couple of months.

“The pothole on your street that you drive every day is the one you want repaired immediately,” Tate said. “But I get 50 people who call and say the same thing. If we get a complaint, we will respond within a day or two at the first available opportunity.”

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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