Who hasn't been driving down the road and — boom! — your car nails a pothole. Potholes might not seem like that big of a deal, but these suckers can do serious damage to tires — and your car. And it can seem worse for people who live in areas affected by snow and ice, like the Upper Midwest, which often suffers from crumbling roads after the snow and ice melts, though cities in the Snowbelt are certainly not the only ones affected.
No matter where you live, pothole damage is expensive to repair. In fact a AAA survey estimated the average repair bill in 2016 from pothole damage to cars ranged between $250 and $1,000, and potholes have cost drivers in the United States more than $15 billion over the past five years.
But it's not just the price in dollars that drivers pay. Potholes can be very dangerous, too. Drivers often swerve to avoid them or can end up losing control of their cars once they hit them. A 22-year-old Detroit man died in February 2018 after the car he was riding in hit a pothole and then crashed into a utility pole.
Drivers who have damage from potholes often have little recourse. In March 2018, the Indianapolis Star reported that of the 283 pothole damage claims that had been filed in the city to date, just one had been approved for total reimbursement; the rest are still pending. The city's low reimbursement rate is because filing a claim is the equivalent of "accusing the city of negligence," which is tough to prove. In other words, such a claim must demonstrate that the city knew about the pothole and failed to fix it within a reasonable time frame. The situation is similar in Michigan.
So what about fixing the actual potholes? Well that's about as bad as it gets, too. In April 2018, USA Today reported that the Indianapolis Department of Public Works determined it would cost $732 million to upgrade the city's roads from poor to fair condition. But two Indianapolis residents saw it another way. Mike Warren, 28, and Chris Lang, 22, decided to take charge of the pothole problem and created Open Source Roads, a grassroots organization to repair Indiana's pothole-riddled roads.
They created a GoFundMe campaign in March of 2017, and use the money to purchase materials to fill potholes. So far, they've raised about $1,500 and filled more than 100 potholes around Indianapolis.
"I'd like people to know that we're not out here to fix the roads. We're two guys who work in tech and want to move out of this state," Chris Lang says via email. "These cheap repair jobs are failing worse and worse every year, and the only thing we've done is stand up to a failing system of maintenance and care."
Lang and Warren say they learned how to repair potholes by researching online, and have a group of friends that regularly help them out. The pair wears orange safety vests, places cones around the work areas and has someone to direct traffic. They try to coordinate repairs during times when traffic is light.
Another group, Portland Anarchist Road Care in Oregon, has also made headlines for rogue pothole repairs, though they appear to be a bit less collaborative than Open Source Roads.
"I reached out to them to thank them for the inspiration and ask if they'd ever like to expand the project," Lang says. "They never got me back. That's fair, though. They're trying a bit harder to conceal their real identities."
Lang and Warren described themselves as having political views in line with the famously Libertarian character Ron Swanson from the TV show "Parks and Recreation," which takes place in Indiana.
The Portland group, however, operates anonymously. One member even wears a mask to protect his identity. In addition to taking care of the roads, they told The Oregonian in March of 2017 they also hope to change the perception of the word "anarchy."
While Open Source Roads and Portland Anarchist Road Care may be going about things slightly differently, their goal is the same: fixing potholes. And they're not alone. Several people across the U.S. have stepped up to do the same in their cities. A limousine driver in Long Island has been filling potholes for years, and neighbors in New Orleans decided to fill the potholes along their street after they said the city ignored them. A father of three in Swindon, England has even jumped on the bandwagon, in a rather interesting way, to say the least.
City officials, however, don't seem so pleased by these rogue pothole patrols. Betsy Whitmore, a representative of the Indianapolis Department of Public Works, told a local Fox News affiliate that the city's main objection to unauthorized road crews is a matter of safety and liability. A spokesperson for the city of Portland told The Oregonian that if a bad repair that was done unofficially causes further damage, the person doing the repair could be found liable. New Orleans and Long Island called for their residents to stop road fixes.
But Lang and Warren remain undeterred. Their next goal is to track potholes they've filled, enable their neighbors to call attention to new holes and estimate the amount of patch needed to fill new holes — all digitally.
"We have plans to do what we do until we can't, or until the city begins making vocal and visual differences in how much they actually care about our citizens and the city we live in, roads and otherwise," Lang says.