The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), which maintains the roads, started temporary fixes this month, at least on El Camino Real.
Dozens of residents recently took to Nextdoor to complain about El Camino's road conditions in Menlo Park, Palo Alto, Mountain View and Los Altos and warned others about especially dangerous potholes that could damage cars that drive over them.
"El Camino potholes are getting so bad that I feel like I'm driving down a backroad in West Texas," one poster said. Another wondered if he was the only one swearing while driving down the road. Others expressed frustration that their cities weren't fixing the road.
El Camino Real, however, isn't under city control. Designated California State Highway 82, the state, through Caltrans, is responsible for its maintenance. Cities such as Palo Alto, East Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Mountain View don't have jurisdiction over road maintenance along state highways and routes, including freeway overpasses, onramps and offramps.
Not that cities don't occasionally jump in. In 2016, the city of Palo Alto decided to do emergency repairs on westbound Oregon Expressway near the U.S. Highway 101 after nearly a dozen large potholes became a hazard for motorists, even though the section of roadway is owned by the state.
Before the recent winter storms, roadways such as El Camino and the University Avenue overpass over U.S. Highway 101 weren't in great shape. Now, the situation has become untenable.
The University overpass has dozens of deep holes as large as 2 feet across and inches apart, threatening to compromise the roadway surface.
"The University overpass is a regional nerve center of Peninsula traffic, and the potholes need immediate attention for safety reasons," East Palo Alto City Council member Ruben Abrica said.
Caltrans spokesperson Victor Gauthier said the agency has been working on temporary fixes.
"The roads got hammered" this winter, he said.
Statewide, Caltrans maintains 15,133 miles of highway and 13,063 highway bridges, according to the agency's website.
In addition to maintaining road surfaces and bridge integrity, Caltrans is also responsible for vegetation management along state roadways. The agency has had many crews doing preventative vegetation removal on crucial roadways such as state Route 17, trying to keep roadway corridors safe from wildfires and fallen trees during storms.
"We try to be proactive. This was a rare season," he said regarding the potholes.
On Tuesday afternoon, April 18, Caltrans contractors finally began filling some El Camino potholes. Workers on foot in bright yellow, reflective vests and hardhats scooped shovelsful of asphalt from a slowly moving truck, filling holes. A small army of heavy-equipment pavement rollers followed to flatten the surfaces.
As of Thursday, Caltrans was unable to provide a repair schedule for the University overpass potholes nor for its resurfacing of El Camino.
Damage to cars caused by the potholes is also costly. Potholes can damage tires, rims and a car's suspension, and those costs could come out of the state's coffers. Caltrans has an online damage-claims program for repairs under $10,000. Claims for more than $10,000 must be filed through the Government Claims Program. The program gives claimants the opportunity to demand compensation for a loss, potentially with a settlement without the need to file a lawsuit.
Anyone who is concerned about a state roadway condition, including potholes, overgrown vegetation, trash and debris, encampments and graffiti, can submit a maintenance request to Caltrans online at csr.dot.ca.gov.
Got car damage?
Caltrans' damage-claims program for repairs under $10,000 can be submitted online at dot.ca.gov/online-services/submit-damage-claim. To receive more information regarding damage claims for more than $10,000 and a claim form, write to Government Claims Program, Office of Risk and Insurance Management, Department of General Services, P.O. Box 989052, MS 414, West Sacramento, CA 95798-9052.
General Caltrans information: 1-800-955-0045; email@example.com.
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