Potholes have opened up across Long Island, flooding car repair shops and towing companies with work. Newsday's Steve Langford takes a look at fed-up motorists feeling the pinch. Credit: Newsday staff; Photo Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

Tire-popping potholes have opened up across Long Island, flooding car repair shops and towing companies with work, and leaving fed-up motorists feeling the pinch.

Fluctuating temperatures have created the perfect recipe for the gaping holes on local roads and highways. Potholes usually develop during the freeze-thaw cycle, when water trapped inside cracks expands as it freezes and contracts as it melts. Aging roads and temporary road fixes also don’t help.

What to know

To report a pothole on a Nassau County road, call 516-571-9600 or download the YOURNASSAU app. Residents can see which municipalities are in charge of roads in Nassau at https://www.nassaucountyny.gov /4743/My-Roads.

In Suffolk County, dial 311 to report a pothole on a county road or to get help about what municipality to contact if it's a locally owned road.

For state highways, dial 800-POTHOLE (800-768-4653).

 

Some of the hardest-hit highways include the Suffolk County end of the Long Island Expressway, the Southern State Parkway in Suffolk, and sections of the Northern State Parkway. County and state officials said they are working as quickly as possible to fill the potholes.

"It seems earlier than usual to have this much damage in the road surface," said engineer Marc Herbst, executive director of the Long Island Contractors’ Association. "They won’t properly repair it, so they’re simply filling the hole. They basically fill it up and flatten it out so cars can continue to drive over it."

A more permanent solution involves the more laborious and costly process of carving and gutting the road and then refilling it, but those repairs are harder to get done, Herbst added.

While trying to figure out whether a road is maintained by the state, county or municipality, some motorists have taken to social media, finding unlikely humor in pothole misfortunes by posting funny memes, or just venting. On Facebook, motorists can join the whimsical Long Island Pothole Support Group or follow the Long Island Pothole Party.

Woody Orenstein, of Coram, created Long Island Pothole Party as a tongue-in-cheek social media group after he and his wife punctured their tires while driving on the LIE in January 2020, but now hopes to inspire residents to vote.

The LIE in Suffolk is expected to be repaved starting in the spring, after a contract is awarded, according to the Stephen Canzoneri, a spokesman with the Department of Transportation.

"My perspective is — we pay some of the highest taxes in the country, so whoever is in charge of our roads should not just be embarrassed, they should be fired because they’re not doing their job. If your roads still … it’s time to vote out every incumbent," Orenstein said.

It costs New York drivers an average of $632 annually in added vehicle costs for driving on rough roads, according to a January report released by TRIP, a transportation research nonprofit.

'I was lucky I didn’t flip over'

Patrick Barbieri, of Patchogue, displayed a photo of his two torn tires on Facebook on Feb. 5. after hitting a pothole while driving his Pathfinder SUV east near Exit 55 on the LIE that afternoon. Barbieri said he had to wait five hours for roadside assistance.

"They’re treacherous. I was lucky I didn’t flip over with two blown-out tires," Barbieri told Newsday. "It’s out of control. In the process of me sitting there, I saw a number of cars swerving to avoid it."

Barbieri said it cost him about $1,300 out of pocket, after his insurance deductible, for repairs. The total costs for the rims, wheels, alignment and balance, plus a cracked front valance, came to $2,300, he said.

There are many others who have hit potholes.

Nancy Nicolazzi, of Lindenhurst, said Route 109 is particularly bad.

"It’s disgusting — it’s like one giant pothole. Don’t these politicians drive on these roads? They just throw some tar on it and an hour later they’re broken. That’s not going to hold," Nicolazzi fumed.

Steven Legum, an attorney based in Mineola, said he drove into a massive 4-by-6 foot cavity on South Franklin Street near Front Street in Hempstead the night of Feb. 8. The Tesla he was driving is now sitting in a repair shop with a broken front and rear suspension, and a dangling tire.

"Some of these streets, it’s just one pothole after the next. It’s really hazardous," Legum said. "I don’t get why they didn’t put a cone in front of it and close the lane. I didn’t even see it until I hit it. It was deep."

By Feb. 10, the hole had been fixed, but Legum was still worried about the repair bill, which he expects to be around $20,000. Although he expects his insurance to pick up most of the tab, he still has a deductible and fears his rates will go up.

Susan Havranek, of Sayville, was heading west along the Southern State Parkway on Feb. 8 to have her husband's hearing aids repaired at the Northport VA Medical Center when a car suddenly veered into their lane to avoid a rut, nearly hitting them.

"My husband and I were on the Southern State and we couldn’t believe how bad it is, especially near the courthouse. It’s become extremely dangerous, and nobody is doing anything about it," Havranek said. She also mentioned that areas along Sunrise Highway are pothole-ridden.

On the eastbound Northern State Parkway near Exit 42, within a span of 75 minutes, there were three vehicles disabled Feb. 9 because of potholes, according to Trooper Daniel Ahlgrim, a spokesperson with the New York State Police.

County, state say they're addressing issues

The state, along with Suffolk and Nassau counties, said they are addressing the issues.

This year, Suffolk said it has received 58 pothole complaints and repaired 43 of those holes, while four complaints were transferred to other municipalities. The remaining 11 potholes were to have been filled by Friday. Hazardous potholes on a county road are filled within 48 hours and can be reported to Suffolk 311, according to Mary Kate Guilfoyle, spokeswoman for Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone.

"With over 2,000 lane miles in Suffolk County, county [Department of Public Works] crews work aggressively to quickly fill potholes on county roadways as they arise," Guilfoyle said in a statement.

Suffolk filled 25,000 potholes last year and has filled 1,000 so far this year, the county said.

Nassau fills potholes within 24 to 36 hours of receiving a complaint during business days, but on the weekend, it can take as long as two or three days, depending on the number of complaints, the county said. The county filled 49,026 potholes in 2021 and 352 so far this year, according to Christopher J. Boyle, a spokesman for Nassau Executive Bruce Blakeman.

Half of a pothole on Middle Neck Road in Great...

Half of a pothole on Middle Neck Road in Great Neck. Credit: Howard Simmons

Nassau Department of Works Commissioner Ken Arnold said in a statement: "County Executive Blakeman is committed to repaving hundreds of miles of county roadways and immediately filling any potholes that may exist."

State Department of Transportation crews are working around the clock to make repairs on road conditions exacerbated by the weather, Canzoneri said. Motorists also can file state claims for up to $5,000 in vehicle damage due to roadway defects from May 1 to Nov. 15.

State Sen. Alexis Weik (R-Sayville) called the condition of state roads "atrocious." She said she was heading east on the LIE on Feb. 11 and was stuck trying to avoid holes from Nichols Road to North Ocean Avenue.

"I was going to a meeting and I went two exits and I was swerving to avoid swimming-pool-sized potholes," said Weik, who sponsored a bill that would make the state responsible for pothole-related vehicle damages year-round. Weik said DOT work crews went out almost immediately after she called to complain.

"I really think the DOT should be surveying the roads and making sure they know where all the potholes are, and they’re not putting it on the drivers to make those complaints. It’s not just a cost thing, it’s saving lives," she added.

Gov. Kathy Hochul recently proposed $1 billion in funding for a statewide war on potholes. Operation P.O.P., or "Pave Our Potholes," if approved, would start with $100 million in funding next fiscal year.

Business booming at repair shops

Meanwhile, business is booming at several auto repair shops and towing companies.

Alan Dering, owner of Elite Towing & Transport in Ronkonkoma, is having trouble keeping up with a spike in demand.

"The highways and expressway are a mess. It’s just crazy," he said. "The phones are ringing off the wall. It’s probably a 500 percent increase. You can’t prepare for it.

"It’s a shame because we pay all these taxes and the roads are terrible," Dering added. "This was a problem last year, every other call is a tire change. This is not good for the front end of our trucks. They take a beating."

Todd Harvey, owner of Todd’s Towing and Transport Inc. in Huntington Station, said at least half his calls are tire-related. He has five trucks fanned out to assist.

"I had close to 50 customers in one day. That’s the most we’ve done in the winter for tire-related incidents," Harvey said. "It’s bad out there. There are just so many potholes right now, you can’t really keep up with them. It’s all weather, so I wouldn’t fault anyone."

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