A series of monstrous potholes, craggy and wide, appeared to sneak up on drivers along a service road recently in southeast Southfield.
Some drivers swerved, others slowed to a crawl. A swift jolt caught one female driver off-guard. She held her face in her hands as her car's front bumper scraped the pavement — a pothole briefly gobbling the tires.
Then came Mike Hughley, 43, of Detroit. The hazards flashed on his Mercedes-Benz as he cruised at about 10 m.p.h., taking the lane most intact. A daily commuter on this road, he knows what to expect.
"I went through four tires, a whole set of tires, this year alone," he said, adding that he's out about $1,000. "You got to put your hazards on."
Salesmen at nearby wheel and tire shops say this is the worst year they can remember for damage caused by roads. The snowiest winter in metro Detroit's history, with its many cycles through temperatures below zero, exacerbated the problem.
The potholes Hughley dodged, along southbound Northwestern Highway just north of Northland Drive were at the top of Southfield's priority list, interim Southfield Public Works Operations Director Larry Sirls told the Free Press earlier this spring. The next day, they were patched.
"The Band-Aid is just fine," Pastor Sierra Tyus, 44, said. "The road really needs to be repaired. It's aged; anything can only last for so long, then it starts breaking down."
Eight times this year, crews applied cold-season patches to the road segment's potholes, Sirls said. But often, they didn't have time to set before snowfall and plows jostled them out. As temperatures became milder, the city's been able to accelerate efforts to apply longer-lasting fixes.
"It actually feels like we're winning right now," Sirls said. "We're getting ahead of it."
Southfield crews were scheduled to return to the area yet again Thursday to fill the damaged road segment with hot asphalt, a longer-lasting fix.
The city has become known as an especially illustrative example of the widespread pothole problem in southeastern Michigan. Sirls said that's in part because some regional media are headquartered there, and also because the city has a number of upcoming road projects it hasn't yet completed.
"We have a lot of areas we knew were bad, it's just this winter really brought them to light," he said.
Across Oakland County are 660 miles of roads in need of resurfacing, and about 31 miles are scheduled for that much-needed attention this year, said Craig Bryson, spoaksman for the Road Commission for Oakland County. Now that the weather's warmed, hot patches are available. But he said those could only be counted on to last perhaps through the summer.
He said lack of finances is what's keeping crews from resurfacing more roads.
In Southfield, some of the cars that get damaged along its highway segment are limped a few blocks to Hot Wheel City, which salesman Jesse (Forner) Yousif said could be renamed "Pothole City."
He's seen a spectrum of customers, driving vehicles ranging from Pontiac sedans to Range Rovers, with cracked wheels, bent rims and ripped tires.
"Off-road pickup trucks, off-road wheels: That's the only thing that's surviving out here," he said, adding that the tires are the extra-beefy aftermarket version. "They've got a bigger tire. It's heavy-duty."
For Tyus, the road damage is bad for business. His construction project inside a building next to the road is intended to house Revolution Multiplex, a Montessori school, community center and after-school program.
"We would like to (offer) convenience," he said. "Definitely, this is not convenient — driving along this to get to the parking lot."
During a lull in traffic, he took a tape measure to a pothole: 6.5 inches deep.
"It's extremely dangerous," he said. "It creates an unsafe environment for the person that's trying to drive by."
A number of times, he's helped people change flat tires after they drove through the series of potholes.
"It's crazy," he said. "It doesn't make sense. These potholes are just ridiculous."