Fasten your seat belts -- it's going to be a bumpy ride for a long time. Experts predict the pothole epidemic bedeviling New York City drivers is going to get even worse before it can get better.

The number of potholes that the city had filled so far in 2014 has nearly tripled over the last two years. From Jan. 1 through Feb. 23, the city has filled 136,476 potholes, according to the DOT. During the same period in 2013, the DOT filled in 56,796; the department filled in 47,434 two years ago. The conditions are the worst AAA New York spokesman Robert Sinclair, Jr., has seen in his nearly 40 years of studying the city's roadways, he said.

Although the DOT invested an additional $7.3 million this year to fill in the craters as fast as possible, the never-ending freezing temperatures and the lack of investment in long-term solutions promise continuing problems. "We are on the advent of becoming a Third World nation in terms of infrastructure," Sinclair, Jr., said.

Between Jan. 1 and Feb. 25, the city's 311 system received 9,505 pothole complaints compared to 2,824 during the same period last year. During that period in 2011, when Mother Nature dumped nearly 20 inches of snow on the area, 311 operators fielded 13,882 pothole calls.

The snowstorm expected to hit the city Mondayisn't going to help either.

Some of the roads with the worst potholes include the Belt Parkway, the Long Island Expressway and 11th Avenue between 26th and 28th Streets, according to road experts.

The potholes cost the city and state a hefty penny for maintenance and they create a financial burden on drivers as well. A study released last week by the nonprofit group TRIP found that potholes alone cost the average New York City driver $673 a year in damage, depreciation and other costs.

Several motorists, especially cabbies, said those road annoyances hurt them in the long run. Cuma Cetinkaya, 35, a cabdriver from Sheepshead Bay, said he gets a flat tire nearly every day. Although the patch only costs him $5 he loses 20% of his income from lost fares.

"That kills us," he said. "Drivers don't make much money."

Even bike riders aren't immune to the ditches. James Ward, 50, a bike messenger from Kew Gardens, likened the potholes to craters, saying he's had to be extra careful especially at the Park Avenue overpass."Your rims are busted at best and at worse, you need to get a new wheel," he said.

Cesar Chumbay, a manager at Carlos Flat Fixed on West 45th Street, said the number of cars coming into his shop doubled in February and he sees 60-80 cars a day coping with various nicks, dents and damage from potholes. Despite the extra business, Chumbay said he's had trouble dealing with lines of cars that stretch up the block. "They gotta fix it," he said of the city's handling of the ditches. "A lot of people are getting car damage because of the potholes, and it's definitely the worst time to get a flat."

Two weeks ago, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a new pothole blitz initiative where DOT crews would fill in the worst ditches over weekends as a quick remedy. Although transit experts said the mayor was taking the right approach to alleviate a serious problem, the pothole epicdemic will require more than cosmetic fixes, they said. The infrastructure itself must be upgraded. Sinclair said there are two major factors spurring the significant potholes: ice and traffic. The polar vortexes, blizzards and other icy conditions contribute to the expansion of asphalt cracks while the ever-increasing number of trucks, cars and other vehicles on the road have exacerbated the problem.

Adequately confronting the problem requires wide-ranging road repairs that utilize modernized engineering tactics and advanced materials, Sinclair said.

He added that any long-term solution would require an infusion of funds on the federal, state and local levels. "If they took a fraction of the money they gave to the banks for the bailout and put it to the roads, we'd be in great shape," he said.

Carolyn Kelly, an associate director of research and communication for TRIP, said the potholes are here to stay. "Right now over half of New York City's roads are in poor condition. With the harsh winter we will see more potholes in the spring," she said.

 

 

Drivers sound off about the huge number of annoying potholes:

Domegno Folly-Gah, 30, Springfield Gardens, cabdriver

"It's been a really rough winter. They're doing their best but they need to rethink the materials they use," he said of the city.

"The other drivers have transmission problems because of how deep those potholes are. You lose your day because you have to go back to the garage."

Andrew De Leon, 32, Bushwick, driver of a 14-foot-long box truck.

"Second Ave. is ridiculous. There is one area past the Queensboro Bridge where a piece of it just drops out. It's like a big step! Every car that goes past it, it's like -- 'psssssst,'" (as their tires deflate.)

"I just try to avoid them and drive at a certain speed, but it's bad because you could hit somebody on a bike."

 

with Sheila Anne Feeney and Shawn McCreesh