Dozens of cars could be seen lined up along U.S. Highway 101 in Redwood City after a major pothole popped tires and caused traffic delays early Monday morning.
An “unusually large pothole” in the second lane of northbound 101 near Woodside Road forced dozens of cars to pull over with flat tires, according to Officer Dave LaRock of the California Highway Patrol (CHP).
Some witnesses reported seeing upwards of 30 stalled vehicles, but LaRock said those numbers were “exaggerated” and that some of the cars were people who had pulled over to help change tires. Though the total number of affected vehicles is unknown, LaRock said there were never more than ten at any time.
The first reports of stalled vehicles came in around 5:30 a.m.; by 7:30 a.m., repair crews were on-site. CHP shut down the left two lanes of traffic just before 8 a.m., causing significant rush-hour delays. The pothole was repaired and the lanes reopened two hours later, according to the incident report.
Caltrans did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Krissy Merolla of Redwood City said that her usual 40-minute commute took more than an hour and 15 minutes. She didn’t see the pothole and had no idea what caused the slowdown until she reached the exit at Whipple Avenue and saw “three sedans pulled over about 100 feet apart, all with flat tires,” she said.
Another resident said she dodged road damage on several expressways this morning. Diana Alejandra described “dinner plate-sized and bigger” potholes along Highway 101 between San Mateo and Palo Alto, as well as on El Camino Real in San Mateo.
She added that the potholes were “significant enough to cause people to swerve to avoid them, which adds another hazard.”
CHP first became aware of the pothole near Woodside Road last week, according to LaRock, who said that it was filled by Caltrans crews. However, additional rainstorms and traffic caused the hole to reopen.
Road damage has affected traffic on major thoroughfares throughout the Midpeninsula in the wake of a series of major winter storms that drenched the region.
Caltrans crews have been working to refill potholes on U.S. 101 throughout Redwood City and Mountain View, according to LaRock. In addition to the pothole near Woodside Road, major problem areas include southbound near Marsh Road, northbound near Whipple Avenue and southbound near Rengstorff Avenue.
Last week, a section of State Route 92 was closed in both directions after a large sinkhole formed early Thursday morning. Caltrans partially reopened the highway Saturday evening, allowing one-way traffic near Half Moon Bay, with westbound 92 still closed from State Route 35 to Pilarcitos Creek Road as crews continue repair work.
Alejandra said avoiding the road damage has started to affect her commute.
“I try to avoid 101 and take 280 instead because there are fewer potholes on my route,” she said, adding that she tries to avoid changing lanes too frequently. “I’ve tried to memorize where the potholes are.”
Several weeks of inclement weather and ongoing commuter traffic have created what LaRock called “a perfect storm” for new potholes. Rains have exacerbated existing imperfections in the roadways, causing the ground to “wither away,” according to LaRock, who said that CHP officers have seen significantly more potholes than they’re used to.
Now, with efforts underway to clear roads affected by flooding, he said, Caltrans is “spread thin trying to get personnel to fill these potholes as quickly as they’re used to.”
The majority of potholes have formed in Redwood City, specifically in the two leftmost lanes of traffic, which LaRock said was unusual. “Usually our potholes are in the slower lanes with the heavier vehicles — dump trucks, big rigs,” he said.
As the Bay Area continues to grapple with the aftermath of several severe winter storms, officials are encouraging residents to use caution while driving and, as much as possible, avoid unnecessary travel to allow crews time to repair the roads.
“If this weather continues we’re going to see the same trend in potholes,” LaRock said. “Once we see clear skies we forget that the surface is still wet, that it still has hazards, that it hasn’t had a chance to dry up yet.”