Missoula County Coverage

Mar 2, 2011 12:42 AM by Breanna Roy (KPAX News)

Pothole problem costing Missoula more than ever

MISSOULA - Missoula's public works director says this winter has created, by far, the worst road damage he has seen in his 18 years with the city.

"We are well in excess of our typical winter maintenance budget and it is certainly more money than we've ever spent, in my experience, on maintenance," public works director Steve King said.

And some Missoula drivers, like Tim Kay, are spending more than expected, too. He had his new Mitsubishi Eclipse for two days when he hit a pothole.

"It broke two rims," he said. "It actually broke them in half."

Frustrated drivers like Kay are swamping Missoula tire shops. Big Sky Tire technician Tanner Pressler said while it's good for business, he feels for the drivers.

"Definitely probably the worst winter for a lot of our customers, just cause their cars are getting' mangled," Pressler said. "They're pretty irritated with the potholes."

The damage put Kay $1,000 in the hole.

"I really have nothin' to blame but Mother Nature," he said.

But some Missoula drivers say someone else should have to pay for it. Since the beginning of 2011, 22 drivers filed claims against the city for pothole damage. But city attorney Jim Nugent said he hasn't heard of any claims getting approved, because not only do they have to prove the city's negligence, they have to prove they were doing everything right as a driver.

"Were they driving appropriately? Were they keeping a lookout like they should be?" Nugent said. "Everyone has a duty and responsibility to keep a lookout as they operate their motor vehicle."

Meanwhile, the public works department has Mayor John Engen and Chief Administrative Officer Bruce Bender's support, to spend what it needs to smooth out the problem areas in the name of public safety.

"We're working within our city budget to find other allocations within the budget that'll allow us to pay for our winter maintenance," King said.

Engen asked all city departments, across the board, to have a budget savings of one percent in order to help pay for the road repairs.

"The ideal situation is that we've got a well-sealed road with curbs and a chip seal and good drainage," King said. "The roads that are sealed are holding up pretty well. The roads that don't have that good surface, good drainage, good curb are having more significant failures."

King is hopeful the asphalt machine Missoula borrowed from Bozeman will provide more durable patches on potholes in the coming weeks.

This spring, the city will focus its efforts on repaving broken-down streets, like Russell Street, even if it means sacrificing some cleanup efforts like street sweeping and leaf collection.

In the meantime, drivers like Kay will have to deal with the roadways.

"I plotted out some new places to drive where there's less potholes," Kay said.

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