A driver speeds by a smattering of potholes on Route 48 in Southold Friday morning. (Credit: Paul Squire)
Don Tonyes, owner of Southold Automotive, can recognize the aftermath of a harsh winter on the North Fork with one glance at a broken-down vehicle.
“They’re breaking wheels, two flats at a time on the same side,” Mr. Tonyes said.
It’s the sign of potholes, and this year the gashes in the road are seemingly as bad as ever before in recent memory.
“This is the worst I’ve ever seen in my entire life, and I haven’t seen half of what people are telling me,” Mr. Tonyes said.
“It’s definitely an increase,” agreed Tony’s Repair Shop owner Tony Antongeorgi.
Thanks to a snowy and record-cold February and temperatures that have since see-sawed from freezing to the upper 50s, potholes have opened up along town and county roads.
Southold Town highway crews have been patching up some of the potholes since March, said Town Highway superintendent Vincent Orlando. Already they’ve spent about $6,500 on patch jobs this year, about $2,500 more than in 2014.
“Some were so severe, you just couldn’t ignore them,” he said. “You had to do something.”
But those potholes were torn back open by bad weather.
“It’s been raining, snowing, raining, snowing,” he said. “My guys have probably fixed the same potholes several times.”
Mr. Orlando said that while potholes are slightly worse than last year, it’s the crumbled and buckled roads caused by the deep freeze that pose the biggest danger. Those roadways will need to be paved over with hot patches of asphalt to be repaired.
Main Road and County Route 48 are not under the town’s jurisdiction and must be repaired by county and state highway crews.
“It’s going to be tedious, but it needs to be done,” Mr. Orlando said. It’ll also take the cooperation of the weather: rainy or cold days make it impossible for the repairs to hold. Mr. Orlando says it’ll take two weeks of fair weather to “catch up” to the potholes.
“It’s all based on weather,” he said. “If the weather breaks… we can address the crumbling roads faster.”
As for how many potholes there actually are? Mr. Orlando said there are too many to count.
“That’s like trying to count the jelly beans in a jar,” he said.
The potholes that remain across the North Fork and in Riverhead are already causing headaches for local drivers, and have proven to be dangerous, authorities said.
Last month, David DeCarle of Aquebogue struck a pothole while riding his motorcycle on Reeves Avenue in Riverhead.
Mr. DeCarle, the father to a baby boy, was thrown from the bike and later died. Weeks after the crash, potholes could still be found pockmarking Reeves Avenue near the scene of the accident.
One driver in Southold Town has also filed a notice of claim, asking for $358.46 to pay for a flat tire caused by a pothole on New Suffolk Road on March 7.
In Riverhead, 10 drivers have filed similar notices since the start of the year.
Mr. Antongeorgi said his shop has seen cars with bubbles on the tires that need to be replaced, as well as broken ball joints caused by the potholes.
He thinks the poor weather up until recent weeks may have delayed highway crews because “they haven’t been out there patching them.”
Mr. Tonyes said this pothole season comes after a particularly brutal winter.
In February, a woman in Southold tried to drive her parked car off an ice patch, Mr. Tonyes said. But the car’s tires had become frozen to the ground. When the woman pulled away, the wheels stayed put, ripping apart the car’s suspension, Mr. Tonyes recalled.
“I’d never heard of anything like that happening,” he said.
But mechanics haven’t been profiting too much off the potholes, he said. On weekends, tourists who get flat tires will often drive back home to Western Suffolk and Nassau to have their tires replaced.
“You hook them up with a spare tire and then they’re on their way,” Mr. Tonyes said.
Drivers aren’t the only ones who are in danger. This year is going to be even worse for motorcycle riders, he said, advising motorcyclists stay off the roads until they can be fully repaired.
Mr. Tonyes owns a Harley-Davidson, but said he’s keeping it in the garage until the roads are patched up.
“I wouldn’t even think of taking my motorcycle out,” he said. “I have a 6-year-old daughter. I want to stick around.”