Erick Ferguson watched as a team of construction workers poured a hot sealant mixture into a pair of potholes on Fremont Avenue in front of him Tuesday afternoon.
"It comes in a Styrofoam block premixed with oil and aggregate. Those Styrofoam blocks, we just throw those in the pot; it all melts down and comes out," said Ferguson, the south district maintenance supervisor for Salt Lake City's Streets Division, as the crews pressed the steaming sealant into the hole.
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall stood a half block away, using a tamper to help another team fill a pothole near the road's intersection at Richards Street. These are a few of the about 6,000 potholes that the division is scheduled to repair this week alone, on top of the nearly 19,000 potholes that the city has already repaired over the past few months, she explained.
Tuesday marked the launch of what city officials call "Pothole Palooza," where dozens of street crews race to catch up to the road damage caused by this year's historic snowfall. It's meant to raise awareness about how residents can report the city's potholes.
The event was originally scheduled to launch a few weeks ago, but the seemingly never-ending winter delayed the first of what Mendenhall would like to see as an annual tradition. Salt Lake City alone has received 87.3 inches of snow since October, its 11th-highest seasonal snowfall total since records were first kept in 1885.
"It's those very snowstorms whose water we need so desperately that's also making our roads incredibly difficult to navigate," Mendenhall said. "With this freeze-thaw cycle that pops those potholes out, we're seeing an incredible amount of potholes."
It's unclear exactly how many potholes this winter produced along the nearly 600 miles of road in Utah's capital city. The repairs are typically made only after they are reported by residents. About 18,000 potholes were filled in all of last year after a far-less busy winter.
But it's likely that there are more potholes this spring than in previous years. This winter's cycle created new potholes while existing potholes worsened, especially from the stress of vehicle traffic in the winter, said Julie Crookston, deputy director of operations for the Salt Lake City Department of Public Services.
"If you see more potholes than normal, you're not crazy," she said. "We don't know, currently, exactly how many potholes are existing, which is why Pothole Palooza is happening, so we can find them all and repair as many as possible."
Though this week's goal is to fill in 6,000 potholes, residents can report potholes on any city or state-managed road at any point of the year through the city’s mobile app, through its website or by calling the Streets Division at 801-535-2345. Officials said they're working to get the page available in different languages to help with possible barriers for some residents.
Salt Lake City's budget isn't impacted much by the extra pothole work, mainly because many of the same people who plow the roads also fix potholes when it's not snowing. The city sets aside about $475,000 every year for the equipment and materials needed to fill in the damaged roads, doing the type of work that Ferguson was overseeing Tuesday.
He said that most of the work is done from a different process than what's unfolding in front of him, noting there is a pothole truck the city acquired last year to aid in the process. The truck has all the tools crews need in one unit, leading to a faster, quieter and more efficient repair process. That's expected to return to the roads this spring.
The pothole repairs won't fix all of the road issues in the city; however, it can make a big difference, Crookston said.
"While filling potholes is not a full road repair and does not replace any of the other robust maintenance work our crews perform, it goes a long way in increasing the safety of the roads for any type of user," she said. "It has always been and continue to be a year-round priority for our team."