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To fix Hamtramck's potholes, "guerrilla" group takes matters into its own hands

Aug 7, 2015

To get an idea of how bad the roads in Hamtramck, Michigan are, you could just drive around

Or you could go talk to Jon Sucher.

A lot of times if you hear about a bad pothole on the news, I’ll know about it first because if it’s around here, people come to me,” says Sucher, the owner of Sucher Tire on East Davison, right across the street from Hamtramck.

Potholes of the rim-bending, tire-blowing variety are not unusual in Michigan. But they’re especially common in Hamtramck.

At Sucher’s tire and rim shop, he’s got a bunch of cracked and bent rims stacked by the front door. Some of them are from repeat customers.

Politicians at the state Capitol have been squabbling for years over how to raise the $1.5 billion a year the state Department of Transportation says is needed, at a minimum, to fix the state’s roads and keep them up.

So a group of Hamtramck residents decided to take matters into their own hands.

They call themselves the “Hamtramck Guerilla Road Crew.” They’re fed up with the potholes.

“We were just kind of hanging out” at a local bar a couple of weeks ago, says Jonathan Weier. “The conversation steered in the way of potholes, and we just sort of posed the questions of – what would we do – what do you fill it with, how much does it cost, how difficult is it to do it well?”

Tabitha Hojna, right, passes out gloves to volunteers.
Credit Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

The next day Weier says he took the extra money he had in his paycheck and bought 17 bags of asphalt. He and his friends borrowed some tools, and filled a stretch of what looked like craters near where they live.

They say they were already paying to fix their cars – so why not instead put some of that money into fixing the roads?

“I guarantee you if you’ve lived here long enough, you’ve had a flat tire or a bent rim,” says Tabitha Hojna.

“Ball joints, suspension components,” says Jeff Salazar. “I mean, the tire guys love it around town. They’re making a killing off it.”

Salazar says patching the potholes turned out to be pretty simple work. So the group launched a fundraising campaign, and money started pouring in. They’ve raised more than $4,000 – enough to buy three and a half tons of asphalt for their second round last Saturday, with about three dozen volunteers.

Maritza Garibay gave a demonstration on a colossal pothole in front of her house:

Guerrillas at work.
Credit Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Sweep out the hole.

Pour in the asphalt.

Tamp it down.

“This is where you get to take out all your aggression,” Garibay joked.

These neighbors aren’t the first to take a do-it-yourself approach to Michigan’s notorious pothole problem.  Last year, the city of Ann Arbor asked a resident who took it upon himself to fill the potholes on his street to please, not do that.

But Hamtramck officials are so far OK with the help. They even gave the group a list of streets the city planned to patch soon, so they wouldn’t double up.

So far, the guerrilla road crew has tackled more than 20 city blocks. They say they’ll be back out there tomorrow.