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Pothole

Workers fill potholes in this Post-Dispatch file photo.

Updated at 4:30 p.m. with more details.

Missouri transportation officials are saddling up a citizen posse in search of crumbling pavement and potholes.

“Since it’s March, it’s pothole season,” said Ed Hassinger, St. Louis district engineer for the Missouri Department of Transportation.

MoDOT has pledged to boost response times to within 24 hours of a motorist reporting a pothole on weekdays. Repair crews will put down a temporary patch, which must suffice until a permanent fix is made in late spring or summer.

While the mild winter has not left too many potholes in its wake so far, Hassinger said that can change rapidly depending on the weather. Potholes form when water seeps into cracks in the pavement, freezes and then expands when temperatures drop.

The freezing water causes pavement to bulge and crack, MoDOT officials said Friday. When cars hit that pavement, it can cause chunks of the pavement to loosen and pop out.

The state hopes to patch the pothole before it grows into a bigger problem. Before the enhanced patrols, MoDOT sought to prioritize pothole repairs depending on where the pothole was located. MoDOT will now divert more maintenance crews to pothole repairs.

Tire shop owners agree that it is probably a bit too early to write the problem off this year.

“There’s no doubt that there’s a correlation between a pothole and costing money out of a motorist’s pocket,” said Aaron Telle, owner of Telle Tire & Auto Service in Richmond Heights and Sunset Hills.

Driving over a pothole can cause wheel damage, knock a car out of alignment and — in the worst cases — damage a car’s suspension, Telle said.

Hassinger figures MoDOT spent about $2 million last year in the St. Louis region to patch potholes.

Hassinger is enlisting the public’s help in reporting potholes on highways and MoDOT-maintained streets. Motorists can report potholes by calling 1-888 ASK MoDOT (275-6636) or going to www.modot.org/stlouis.

MoDOT officials say the aim of the stepped up repairs is to keep highways smooth and safe.

St. Louis Streets Director Todd Waelterman said pothole reports have picked up over the past week to 10 days.

Motorists who spot a pothole on one of the city’s arterial streets have been able to call the city and expect a repair within 48 hours, Waelterman said. In St. Louis, drivers can call the Citizens’ Service Bureau at (314) 622-4800 or visit www.stlouis-mo.gov.

Typically, the crews will throw down a temporary patch that would last for a few days. But with the recent warm weather, the city has been able to make longer-lasting repairs, he said.

The Illinois Department of Transportation tries to get to reported potholes within 24 to 48 hours, said District 8 Operations Engineer Joseph Monroe. The response time can be driven by the location and severity of the pothole.

“If it is a high-traffic area and we deem it a hazard, we may respond during off hours,” he said. “If it is a run-of-the-mill pothole in a low-speed area, it may be the next day.”

Monroe said potholes can occur throughout the year but are most prevalent in late March or early April. Motorists in the Southern Illinois district can report potholes at (618) 346-3100.

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Ken Leiser is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.