Kettles, chuckholes and craters. Those are some of the words used to describe Monterrey’s plentiful baches, or potholes, whose invasion has left state, city and municipal governments scrambling to fill the holes.
After a driver hits one and loses a tire and/or a rim the names become even more colorful. After a bad experience, for instance, one might even call them %@!*–ing potholes. Take your pick.
Whatever the nomenclature, baches are a part of the Mexican landscape in the north where there have been record rainfalls in recent months. Meteorologists say it’s been the rainiest in 38 years. From November 2014 to the 20th of March of 2015 there has been accumulated rainfall of 269 millimeters. This is a 169% increase over the historical average rainfall for this time of year. Normally 100 millimeters of precipitation is expected.
Monterrey, known as the City of Mountains and the industrial and business capital of northern Mexico, has 28 million square meters of asphalt pavement, and some estimates say that more than 30% of it is in very bad shape. The city has 600 kilometers of paved roadways and it is thought that 40% has been damaged due to the recent rains (and poor quality asphalt).
According to Internations, an organization of expats, “. . . potholes, crime, reckless driving style, should make any expat in Mexico a little nervous about actually participating in traffic” (and trying to drive around all the holes in the road). Also on the list of obstructions typically found on Mexican roads, in addition to the baches, are the occasional horse or cow walking the highway. An occasional mud or landslide in mountainous regions is another possibility that can really make life interesting.
And there is always the possibility of a pile of rock and dirt left by workers in the middle of the street (surprise!) just waiting to be picked up. These kinds of road hazards, especially baches, are even more dangerous at night when an innocent-looking pool of water is actually an almost bottomless pit (“a mega-bache”) just lying in the shadows ready to swallow whole the first unwary vehicle that comes cruising along.
Enosurance, an Allstate affiliate, recently published “7 Tips for Driving in Mexico.” Among them: be aware of different road conditions. It can be a jarring experience, according to the publication, to hit a bache at full speed. It can bend the car’s wheel rim and blow out the tire and even damage the suspension.
And then what? In Monterrey the municipality pays for damage done to vehicles by potholes. But it’s a time-consuming, bureaucratic process that many car owners would rather avoid.
Not only do the ubiquitous baches cause damage to public and private transport but they are a source of accidents when oncoming traffic, for instance, suddenly swings out of its lane to miss hitting the pothole and ends up face-to-face with another car going in the opposite direction.
Baches also slow the flow of traffic. It takes more time to travel a road pockmarked with potholes that make the street look like a World War II minefield. Also, it takes more fuel to travel a road with holes in it.
Because election time is coming up at least one candidate for government office in Nuevo León has proposed contracting only with paving companies tat will give a quality guarantee with their work.
The battle of the baches is at least as old as the problem faced by the Roman road builders 2,000 years ago. It seems the people who lived adjacent to Roman roads loved to use road-building clay for making pots. And their pot-making industry left potholes in the road.
The modern bache is probably the result of pavement using a poor grade of asphalt combined with the effects of excess water. That water filters down to the earthen substructure and softens it, so the overlying carpet of asphalt loses its firm base.
The weight of passing traffic pressing down on the asphalt, again and again, weakens and eventually breaks up and fractures the pavement, and the infamous bache is born.
The writer is a longtime resident of Monterrey.