Potholes, Sinkholes and Bridges

Greg Sitek
Greg Sitek

Note: This editorial appeared in the August issues of the ACP magazines

Not long ago I was driving down a major road going from home to the gym when I hit a pothole. The impact jarred my GPS loose from its window mount; my teeth rattled; my head hit the roof of the car and I expected the right front tire to go flat. It didn’t. I pulled over, got out and inspected the wheel for damage. I wasn’t disappointed. There was a serious dent in the cast aluminum rim. No air was leaking out so I drove back home and the following morning took the car to my local dealer.

They were as amazed as I was that the tire hadn’t started to leak. After careful inspection they decided that it really wasn’t safe to continue using so swapped with the donut spare.

My service rep said that she had had a similar experience recently without the extensive rim damage I had sustained. Due to the price of the replacement rim she decided to use it since it wasn’t a safety hazard.

While the inspection and swap were being made I sat in the customer longue and wouldn’t you know it, the newscaster made a public service announcement cautioning drivers to be aware of serious pothole hazards. The report said that potholes were growing faster than they could be repaired. No big surprise.

When I got called back to the service desk my service advisor informed me that my rim was unfit for continued service; that the mini-spare was mounted and ready to roll; that the tire had survived damage and lived to roll again on a new rim; and that this experience was going to cost me $496.86 for the rim, plus labor, plus alignment. To rub salt into the economic wound, the rim had to be ordered and would arrive in a couple of days. So much for living in the Motor City area.

The days went by with me driving around on my mini-spare. Finally, I go a phone call and my service advisor said, “You’re not going to believe this but the new rim did come in … bent.”

Bent?” I repeated.

“Bent,” she said, “but I have ordered a new one to be sent to us overnight. No. Don’t panic. There won’t be any additional costs. This was the rim manufacturer’s fault.”

The next day I got another call and my service advisor, who by now has become a good friend, said, “The new rim is here. I checked it and it’s perfect so you can come in and we’ll finish the installation, inspection and alignment.”

We, the car and I, went in and waited while the tire was mounted on the new rim then on the car and the inspection and alignment completed. Fortunately the car didn’t suffer any undercarriage damage.

The pothole is still there waiting to devour another unsuspecting rim.

This experience taught me to avoid potholes whenever I could but it also reminded me that roads, not only the ones near my home, are in a state of continued deterioration. The economic crisis that has spanned the last couple of years has taken its toll in accelerated infrastructure wear.

Bridge failures continue, as do other infrastructure catastrophes like the recent water system problems in the Baltimore area. I was still brooding over my pothole escapade when I came across this article on sinkholes. Ha, and I thought I had it bad…


Sinkholes: When the Earth Opens Up

The ground beneath our feet, our cars, our buildings, appears to be incredibly solid. But, rarely, that solid ground can simply open up without warning, dropping whatever was above into an unpredictably deep hole. Sinkholes can be anywhere from a few feet wide and deep, to two thousand feet in diameter and depth. An undiscovered cavern or deep mine can collapse, allowing the ground above to crater, or a broken water main or heavy storm can erode a hole from below, until the surface becomes a thin shell that collapses at once. Communities built atop karst formations are very susceptible, where a layer of bedrock is water-soluble, like limestone, and natural processes can wear away caves and fissures, weakening support of the ground above. Gathered here are images of some of these sinkholes, both man-made and natural, around the world.

Of the 28 sinkholes shown from around the world, eight of them are or were here in the United States: Toledo, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Antonio, Winter Park Florida, San Diego, Mulberry Florida and Seffner Florida. Makes you wonder about buying property in Florida…

Some of these are the result of human intervention some catastrophic contributions from nature. The important point to remember, besides “Watch Out For Potholes,” is that we need to emphasize the importance of maintaining and updating our infrastructure to the people who represent us in our local, state and federal governments. Next year the federal gas tax expires. If it doesn’t get reenacted our pothole crisis will increase as will sinkhole incidents and bridge failures.In case you missed it, you may want to use the MSN Bridge Tracker and

Check the safety of bridges you cross

The map in the article shows the condition and inspection dates for more than 100,000 bridges in the U.S. that are crossed by at least 10,000 vehicles per day. The records come from the latest National Bridge Inventory, as analyzed by msnbc.com. Inspections through 2006 are included. Only bridges, on/off ramps and overpasses within .2 miles of your chosen route are shown. The locations were provided by state departments of transportation. Some states are more accurate than others in mapping their bridges.


For the full story on bridge inspections, go to http://bridges.msnbc.com.

Meanwhile, travel safely; watch out for potholes, sinkholes and crumbling bridges.

Greg Sitek