As part of this seasonal ritual, Latvian Radio hit the streets of Rīga to assess the situation on several frequently-used carriageways and reported its findings February 23.
Numerous holes were recorded on the main highways, entering Riga from the Jūrmala side on Kārļa Ulmaņa gatve, and on Maskavas Street in the direction from Ogre. Drivers must be watchful at the wheel and exhibit slalom or drifting skills to avoid potholes that were not there a month ago, if they want to avoid a large garage bill for a suspension rebuild. The asphalt surrounding manhole covers seems particularly hazardous.
It is also taxing to drive and exit from Gustav Zemgala gatve overpass on the VEF concert hall side and to move along the left side lane of Zemitāna bridge in the direction of Purvciems. The recently renovated Bruņinieku and Čaka streets do not show any serious defects.
Rīga Municipality regularly monitors the condition of roads, although the financial resources of the municipal budget are limited, said Olafs Pulks (New Unity party), the head of the Traffic and Transport Affairs Committee of the Rīga City Council.
"The first and foremost thing we will respond to is road safety. As soon as there is news that somewhere asphalt has been seriously washed away or lost with the snow, we will have to react," said Pulks.
He said that the so-called 'cold' asphalt repair method is expensive and not very effective, but it is used in places where road damage is extremely dangerous and repairs are urgent. The active repair season will start when the air temperature is above 0 degrees both day and night.
"We will try to close up potholes not only to the precise centimeter, but we will try to put in a new asphalt surface in a slightly wider area, so that its will not break down again soon. It needs more money per square meter, but I think it will be better when looking to the future," he said.
In Rīga, the funding planned for the maintenance of roads this year, including the removal of snow from them, is about 17 million euros instead of the required 40 million. The committee has just decided to allocate an additional EUR 5 million for street maintenance, including carriageway repairs.
Outside the capital many roads remain unasphalted and these too must be negotiated with care, according to Anna Kononova, a representative of "Latvijas Valsts ceļi" (Latvian State roads). She says that the melting of winter snow on gravel roads creates numerous problems with roads sometimes partially frozen and partially thawed being slippery and apt to catch out all but the most cautious drivers.
"Motorists must take into account that there will be difficult driving conditions on local roads, they will slip there. Therefore, choose the appropriate driving speed and avoid rapid maneuvers," said Kononova.
Defects have also been found in several road sections renovated last year where grit on the road surface has not bonded with the asphalt concrete layer, so the stones raised by passing cars can damage the windshields and bodywork of other vehicles. As soon as there is consistently warm weather, road builders will have to restore sections of road that were not properly bonded at their own expense. This is provided for in contractual warranty conditions. Until then, signs on reduced speed limits have been posted on these sections of the road, according to Latvian State roads.
The thaw is only just beginning, and with particularly heavy snowfall this winter, who knows what hidden horrors will emere into the springtime sunshine in coming days? Until all is clear and the work gangs have started to appear on Latvia's highways and byways, road users are advised to proceed with caution.