Katherine Gray was driving along Ruston Way last month when she noticed cars pulled over with their hazard lights on.
“The next thing I know, I drove into this massive pothole that consumed my car,” she said. “It was a like a roller coaster ride. Up and down.”
Gray was down from Bellingham, visiting her parents in Tacoma. She was able to get her car to their house before her tire gave its last gasp.
The massive pothole that suddenly opened up like a Florida sinkhole damaged about a dozen cars, according to witnesses.
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Robert Stocker was in Harbor Lights restaurant, just north of the pothole, watching the scene unfold that evening.
“I was right in the bar so I had a perfect view of everything,” Stocker said.
He saw at least three cars towed away.
“Someone just walked up and put an umbrella in there so nobody would drive in it again,” he said.
The next day that umbrella and several hubcaps were still lying next to the pothole.
Bobby Ocasio, a resident of Point Ruston, had driven the route at 2:30 p.m. that day without any problems.
When he drove the route again at 5:45 p.m., he saw what he thought was a mud puddle ahead. It was the pothole.
His car bounced and buckled through it.
“I didn’t think anything was wrong,” he said and continued on to meet his mother for dinner.
Later, when he was on the freeway, he felt his tire go flat.
“It looked like somebody slashed my tire,” Ocasio said. “I don’t know how it didn’t go flat instantly.”
Like Gray’s tire, it was a total loss. A replacement cost him $82. The social worker has filed a damage claim with the city.
Gray spent close to $200 on a new tire and realignment for her car.
“I missed a whole day of work because I couldn’t drive,” she said.
A massive pothole suddenly opening up is unusual, but not unheard of, said Rae Bailey, a public works division manager with the city of Tacoma.
The first call for the pothole came around 5:30 p.m. Nov. 27, he said.
“It was just reported as a pothole in the road,” Bailey said. “Well, we get pothole reports all the time.”
It was put on the next day’s to-do list.
By the time the next call came in, it was apparent that the pothole wasn’t going to wait. A worker was dispatched immediately, Bailey said.
Why the pothole formed so quickly is a mystery, but Bailey speculated that cracked pavement allowed rainwater to seep in and infiltrate the dirt below.
“The asphalt popped out,” Bailey said. “As vehicles continued to drive over it, it just got bigger and bigger.”
Ruston Way itself is a waterlogged environment. Water seeps down from the hillside and falls from the sky.
“And then you’ve got the tidal action coming up against the sea wall,” Bailey said. “It’s a triple whammy.”
The patch to repair the hole ended up being 15 feet long and 3 feet wide.
While this pothole was particularly damaging, it has many cousins throughout the city.
“As everybody knows, the city has a pothole problem,” Bailey said.
Bailey has a full-time, four-man pothole crew to fix them.
In the past two years, the crew has permanently repaired close to 5,000 potholes.
“I think we’re gaining,” Bailey said. But the situation can get worse in winter.
“We rely on the citizens to call in and inform us about potholes,” he said.
To report potholes and file claims
Call 311 or 253-591-5495, 24 hours per day to report potholes.
Those who wish to file a claim can call the city clerk’s office at 253-591-5505 or use an online form.