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Kansas City drivers navigate a metro full of potholes after winter weather swings tear up roads

Outdoors photo shows four men wearing safety vests on a city street. There is a dump truck filled with gravel next to them while traffic waits in the foreground. They are using shovels to fill
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
A crew from Kansas City Public Works is patching potholes on Monday, Jan. 29, 2024 on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

The city has received 600 reports to 311 about potholes in just the last week. City Manager Brian Platt says city crews can fill hundreds of potholes per week, but weather and poor road conditions mean many more are taking out tires and breaking suspensions.

Kansas City drivers dread pothole season every spring, but it came early this year when a surge hit Kansas City-area roads after they thawed out from the bitter cold streak.

Darion Robinson, the owner of DLR Towing and Recovery, said this was the worst week he’s seen in his seven years of towing.

“If I had, I would say 20 tows, at least 12 of them were because someone hit a pothole and busted their tire, bent the rim, broke the axle or something like that,” Robinson said. “These potholes are terrible out here.”

Robin said recent rain and snow melt is filling potholes with water, making them hard to see and dodge — which he said is tearing up cars.

Dozens of people told KCUR’s text line they’ve also been dodging potholes this month — some so wide they’re hard to miss. Anne McGregor, a Midtown resident, said she hit a pothole at 51st Street and Forest Avenue. She ended up with a flat tire, and had to pay $100 to have her car towed to the closest place that could fix it because she didn’t have a jack to do it herself.

“Turns out, the tire was ruined so I had to buy a new tire for $300,” McGregor said in a text. “I live on Social Security so this was a huge dent in my budget.”

McGregor said she registered a complaint with the city, and a couple weeks later the pothole was fixed.

Hundreds of requests to fill potholes

Just this week, the city’s 311 line received more than 600 requests to fill potholes.

City Manager Brian Platt says 10 crews are working 12 hour shifts to fix the potholes, and can fill hundreds a day — but the city’s main focus is resurfacing roads.

“Rather than putting Band-Aids on some of these older roads, and all that deferred maintenance, we're trying to completely rebuild our roads from the ground up to make sure that they can last through and withstand the extreme freeze-thaw cycle that we just saw,” Platt said.

Platt said the city has resurfaced nearly 500 lane miles of roads this year, up from about 162 lane miles in the 2018-2019 fiscal year.

Because of the resurfacing effort, Platt said potholes aren’t as widespread across the city, but they’re still popping up on older roads that aren’t resurfaced yet.

“This is also an opportunity for us to prioritize some of the worst roads that we've got in Kansas City, where we find the most potholes,” Platt said.

But relief from potholes can’t come soon enough for some Kansas City drivers.

Kelcie Cunningham in North Indian Mound said she’s taking her car in for repairs because of the potholes.

“It upsets me because it seems like our tax dollars go towards Brookside and other more affluent neighborhoods alike to have immaculate roads,” Cunningham said. “Meanwhile, in HNE (Historic Northeast) it feels like driving on Mars.”

Robinson, with DLR Towing and Recovery, said he hears complaints from many of his customers about how the city is repairing roads.

“The city needs to get out here and get this stuff fixed. People are mad about this,” Robinson said. “We pay taxes to keep the streets to where that wouldn't happen, and it's sad, but it's still happening.”

Platt said the city is catching up on decades of deferred maintenance.

“It's taking us a while to catch up,” Platt said. “We've set a new standard and one day, we will get to a place where our roads are in really, really great condition. And a lot of our roads have improved their condition quite considerably.”

Climate change means more freeze-thaw cycles hitting cities more quickly, which creates even more potholes. Platt said the city’s resurfacing plan is a part of dealing with those cycles, as well as snow removal to leave less ice and snow on the roads to freeze in the first place.

“It's just something we're going to have to deal with for the long term and just be ready for both the rebuilding of our infrastructure and also responding to those minor emergencies that are potholes when we see them and hear about them,” Platt said.

More than ever, education lies at the intersection of equity, housing, funding, and other diverse issues facing Kansas City’s students, families and teachers. As KCUR’s education reporter, I’ll break down the policies driving these issues in schools and report what’s happening in our region's classrooms. You can reach me at jodifortino@kcur.org.
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