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Into the void: Pothole season worse than last year, officials say

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Add this to the winter of our discontent: potholes.

Pothole season is usually a sign of spring to come, a result of freezing and thawing patterns. But with Minnesota still gripped by bitter winter cold, the ravenous road holes have arrived, tearing into tires and savaging suspension and steering systems.

This year could be worse than others. State transportation officials estimate that this year could bring twice as many potholes as last, the Pioneer Press reports.

Nationwide, auto owners spend roughly $5 billion on pothole-damage repairs, AAA has estimated, but the number could be pushed closer to $6.4 billion this year, due in part to the severe cold, snowy winter in the Midwest and East, CBS News reported. CBS says potholes are eating away at city budgets as well residents' cars.

Potholes thrive on freezing and thawing cycles as moisture seeps into road cracks, freezes, expands and then melts, leaving cavities that car tires crush (see a USA Today graphic of how they form). A recent all-too-brief thaw in Minnesota gave the potholes plenty to feed on.

Unfortunately, the state is still in a deep freeze, which makes it tougher for road crews to make repairs. Many streets are still covered with plates of ice.

But city officials say they are gearing up for battle. Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges urged residents to notify the city about potholes, which are being catalogued, and she promises an aggressive and proactive attack.

St. Paul officials say that a plant that makes hot mix for street repair will open March 4, when repair trucks will begin hauling the material out to the worst of the car-eating holes. Crews are currently using a cold patch, which is more of a temporary fix, the Pioneer Press reports.

Meanwhile, car repair shops are doing a brisk business. "We've been seeing a little bit more than last year," a Firestone repair shop manager told the Pioneer Press. "On the high end, it can be $1,800 worth of repairs."

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