18,600 potholes in Northern Ireland roads and 'problem is going to get worse'
Northern Ireland's roads are riddled with almost 20,000 unfixed potholes, Regional Development Minister Michelle McIlveen has revealed.
Budget cuts are one factor in the rising number of neglected potholes - and experts warn the problem is only going to get worse, with the cold weather likely to cause further crumbling.
Luke Bosdet from motoring organisation the AA said the high volume of potholes even before winter has arrived means Northern Ireland has "a major problem" - and one that will get worse as it gets colder.
"Those potholes will get bigger and more of them will appear," he warned.
Ms McIlveen was responding to an Assembly question from DUP MLA Alex Easton.
She said: "I can advise that some 18,600 carriageway surface defects - including potholes and other surface defects such as cracking and depressions - had been recorded and had not been repaired as of September 2."
The Department for Regional Development (DRD) was unable to provide a more up-to-date figure yesterday.
Potholes are formed by water penetrating the asphalt surface through cracks caused by traffic.
Cold weather means the water freezes and expands, causing the surface to rupture. When the ice melts, it leaves a void below the surface. This then caves in under the stress of vehicles, forming a pothole in the process.
In March, the Belfast Telegraph reported that DRD had set aside £4.5m for pothole payouts in the coming year.
Between March 2014 and February 2015, the department received 556 compensation claims for damage caused to vehicles by potholes - more than 10 a week.
Mr Bosdet said not fixing potholes was likely to end up being far more expensive.
"If your car gets damaged and you can show your local authority knew about the pothole and did not fix it, then you can claim for compensation," he added. "In that context, it begins to get very expensive indeed."
In 2013, an AA survey found that 29% of drivers surveyed in Northern Ireland had damaged their vehicle after hitting a pothole in the previous two years.
Mr Bosdet said road defects also posed a safety risk. "Cyclists are the most vulnerable, either because they hit a pothole unexpectedly, or they try and go around them and collide with a car," he added. "It's a pretty bad situation for everyone."
DUP MLA Ms McIlveen was appointed Regional Development Minister last month after the UUP's Danny Kennedy resigned.
SDLP MLA John Dallat, who sits on the DRD watchdog committee, said: "The first thing the new minister should do is fill in the potholes, cut the grass verges and turn the street lights back on.
"Every one of those potholes has the potential to cause a road accident, which could cause serious injury or even death.
"Each one is potentially a claim for compensation for injury or damage to vehicles."
A DRD spokeswoman said: “TransportNI will continue to inspect and repair surface defects which are considered to be the most hazardous on roads within the resources available.”