California endures a pox of potholes as storms pummel roads and freeways

A pothole at Western and 6th streets.
(Daniel Miller / Los Angeles Times)

California drivers may not face rain this week, but potholes caused by recent storms pose new dangers.

In Los Angeles, requests for pothole repairs have soared as downpours have crumbled streets. Since Dec. 30, there have been 2,407 potholes reported on Los Angeles roads, with 722 this weekend alone. So far, 812 of those reported have been fixed, said Elena Stern, a spokesperson for the Department of Public Works.

Michael Cox, a manager with the Street Maintenance Division of DPW, is in his 34th year working for the city.

“This is the busiest we’ve seen it in quite some time,” he said.

The city has “eight or 10 pothole trucks working per day” in a grid system, Cox said, each dispatched to an area with especially high request volume.

Pothole issues are not limited to Los Angeles, of course.

As of Monday morning, a stretch of northbound State Route 71 near Pomona had to be closed for “urgent pothole repair,” according to a tweet from the California Department of Transportation. Meanwhile, in Fresno, crews reported at least 30 areas with pothole issues, and vehicles had been damaged, per ABC30.


In Redwood City, a pothole on the northbound U.S. 101 Freeway caused blown-out tires and had motorists scrambling for repairs.

“We were overwhelmed,” said Kurt Boegner, who works at Redwood General Tire, less than half a mile from the freeway. “By 7:30 in the morning, we already received 15 calls related just to that pothole.”

“Pothole damage can be extremely expensive,” said Doug Shupe, a spokesperson for the American Automobile Assn. “The most common type of damage is a flat tire and bent rims, but potholes can also damage suspension. The faster you hit a pothole, the more damage that can occur.”

A 2021 survey from AAA found that 1 in 10 drivers sustained vehicle damage significant enough to warrant a repair after hitting a pothole. The average price was about $600 per repair. The group estimates that American drivers in 2021 shelled out $26.5 billion related to pothole damage.

Potholes also pose a liability for city governments. In 2017, Los Angeles paid $6.5 million to a cyclist who hit a pothole and sustained severe injuries. Last year, Los Angeles paid $143,623 to people who filed damage claims due to potholes, according to Ian Thompson, a spokesman for the city attorney’s office.

“That’s why it’s so important ... to be watchful,” Shupe said. “Keep your tires properly inflated; they are the cushion between your rims and the road. And if you can safely avoid [potholes], then do.”

The two vital ingredients in pothole creation are traffic and water, according to a report from the American Public Works Assn. The weight of cars creates cracks atop asphalt that allow water to seep in, weakening the sub-base and soil underneath until further traffic pushes the top layer down into those below.

The term comes from 15th and 16th century English potters, who would take advantage of ruts created by wagons and collect clay for use in pot-making, according to the APWA report.

Colby Wagenbach, 29, was driving south from his home in Westchester to Manhattan Beach on Sunday when he noticed an “accumulation of asphalt on the side” of Pershing Drive near Los Angeles International Airport.

Recent rain had left “puddles everywhere,” he said, causing potholes.

Drivers “would have slammed [into] their steering wheels if they had hit those,” Wagenbach said of the potholes, calling them a “problem waiting to happen.” It was unclear if any vehicles had sustained damage on Pershing Drive.

Wagenbach reported the issue to the Los Angeles Department of Transportation in a Twitter post. DOT referred him to the Department of Public Works’ Bureau of Street Services, which accepts reports by phone at 311 or via an online form.

“Crews routinely watch for these potholes and carry patching materials to fill the holes at the earliest, safest opportunity to stop them from growing into larger issues,” Caltrans spokesman Will Arnold said in a statement.

But if they don’t, motorists are encouraged to file a report. Those who hit potholes and sustain injuries or damage to their vehicle can submit claims against Caltrans for up to $10,000.