See Portland’s Biggest Pothole

The WW Hole Patrol team reviewed your entries and crowned a champion.

Gaze upon its staggering depths! (Whitney McPhie)

Spring is in the air, but January’s ice storm is the gift that keeps on giving. Maybe you’ve lost a lilac or rosemary bush. For sure you’ve hit a pothole or two.

To hear City Commissioner Mingus Mapps tell it, the roads are in worse shape this year than they usually are after winter loosens its grip. Mapps is in charge of the Portland Bureau of Transportation, a thankless job because PBOT has been underfunded for almost 40 years (see story, here).

Without regular maintenance, roads are much more susceptible to the ravages of rain and ice. In lieu of a Manhattan Project for Portland’s pavement, which almost everyone agrees is necessary, Mapps launched a “March Madness” push on potholes a month before the women’s NCAA tournament came to town.

For almost two weeks, PBOT diverted workers from other jobs to form seven pothole-filling dream teams. Four handled holes east of 82nd Avenue, where most of them are. Two crews “milled” sections of road out there, shaving away strips of pavement, laying down new asphalt, and rolling it smooth. The final crew filled holes west of 82nd. All in, they filled 1,800 holes.

WW decided to get in on the action. We fielded our own Hole Patrol, asking Portlanders to send pictures of whopper abscesses in their neighborhoods and on their commutes. We got about 75 entries, culled those to a bracket of eight, and picked a winner. Contest note: We didn’t allow holes on the dirt roads that plague parts of Portland. See the accompanying story for why gravel persists in parts of the city.

The pothole contest bracket, as judged in WW World Headquarters. See a full-sized bracket in our print edition. (Anthony Effinger)

We’d like to think we helped out. We noticed that the city’s heroic pothole crews, which can fill 100 a day, each, often arrived soon after we featured a given hole.

Our contest is over, but Mapps encourages everyone to keep reporting potholes to the city’s hotline: 503-823-2867. The Transportation Bureau vows to fill all reported holes within 30 days.

Thanks to everyone who took the time to patrol the holes!


“The Craters of Alameda Ridge” vs “The Bike Killer”

"The Craters of Alameda Ridge" Northeast 21st Avenue, between Crane and Mason streets
"The Bike Killer" Northeast 21st Ave, between Sandy Boulevard and Flanders Street

A true subway series, pitting two holes hailing from the same quiet residential street, ended in a first-round blowout, with all eight judges choosing the northern entrant atop the ridge. Most cited the greater depth of the Alameda hole as the deciding factor. Chris Capretto, who submitted a photo of himself posing beside the hole, has been urging Transportation Bureau officials to close this block of 21st to car traffic. He’s had no luck, but his hole advances to the semifinals. The Craters win, 8-0.

“The Trash Collector” vs “The Downtown Doozy”

“The Trash Collector” Southeast 28th Place, between Cora and Holgate streets
“The Downtown Doozy” Southwest Taylor Street at 2nd Avenue

This contest marks the first appearance of a sinkhole in the field of eight, raising questions on our panel about whether a fissure that rose from under the street could rightly advance in the bracket. We decided it could—but it didn’t, losing to a whopper of a cave-out next to popular restaurant Luc Lac in downtown. The nominating reader, Houston Bolles, scored points with the judges for submitting a photo that included a copy of WW for scale. At least six copies could fit in this hole. The Doozy wins, 7-1.

“The King Rat” vs “The Portal to Middle Earth”

“The King Rat” Northeast 70th Avenue at Mason Street
“The Portal to Middle Earth” 200 block of Northeast San Rafael Street

Another difficult pothole vs. sinkhole matchup, but this time the sinkhole muscles out a victory for its kind. Judges felt there was something piquant in the image of a traffic barrier used to warn passersby—and that metal barrier itself listing defeatedly into the earth, as shown in the photo submitted by Colin Keating. High comedy. The Portal wins, 6-2.

“The Nautical Hazard” vs “The Raw Dog”

“The Nautical Hazard” North Marine Drive near the Kelley Point Park turnoff
“The Raw Dog” Southeast Tibbetts Street at 80th Avenue

It remains something of a mystery exactly how large the Raw Dog really was. Josie Almond Flower offered no objects for scale, which placed his entry at a disadvantage in the matchup. But Tibbetts Street is a residential street running into one of the city’s most dangerous arterials, and this stretch of Marine Drive is closer to Scappoose than it is to most Portlanders. Home-field advantage matters. The Raw Dog wins, 8-0.


“The Craters of Alameda Ridge” vs. “The Downtown Doozy”

The Alameda run stops here, one match short of the championship bout. The downtown hole is simply too powerful, too deep, and too likely to damage your vehicle’s undercarriage as you drive to a court date. It’s the second most likely way to lose a catalytic converter downtown. The Doozy wins, 8-0.

“The Portal to Middle Earth” vs. “The Raw Dog”

Our judges remain compelled by the mystery of this Tibbetts Street pothole of undetermined size—as well as by the beauty of its performance. There’s something elegant here: a nearly perfectly round crater, half-filled with coffee-colored rainwater, appearing in the center of the road, as if crafted by a watchmaker who wished to make it difficult to avoid. This is what champions are made of (corroded asphalt). It has that dog in it. The Raw Dog wins, 5-3.


“The Downtown Doozy” vs. “The Raw Dog”

Is it possible that politics played a role in the championship match? That our judges weighed the optics of choosing another downtown obstacle against the decades of neglect at the edges of the city? Could such a pure sport as pothole selection be tainted by special interests and naked pandering? Eh, who gives a rat’s ass. The Raw Dog wins, 7-1.


“The Raw Dog”

LOCATION: Southeast Tibbetts Street at 80th Avenue

SUBMITTED BY: Josie Almond Flower

HOW THEY FOUND IT: Almond Flower was cagey about how they found it, but the message sent along with the description captured our hearts: “I have to preface that this is not the biggest pothole I’ve ever seen; however, the combination of these potholes will leave anyone’s mode of vehicle feel violated. If anyone wants to rawdog this block go ahead, but no protection will save you.” (In popular culture, rawdog means to have sex without a condom. This whole block, just off Southeast 82nd Avenue is a hazard, Almond Flower is saying, and their submission is the marquee hole.)

CURRENT STATUS: Repaired, with a neat square of pavement. But its gravesite demonstrates that this was a worthy victor: Its diameter was easily 2 feet, and it sits amid a patchwork of pothill filling that makes Tibbetts and surrounding roads look like a gray quilt. RIP, Raw Dog.

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