Montgomery County lawmakers, already struggling to pay an estimated $12 million in snow removal costs, face another winter-related predicament: potholes.

County Council member Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg), who chairs the council's public safety committee, said he has never seen Montgomery roads in such cracked conditions. The axle-bending roads are the result of the snowiest February in recent memory.

Andrews said that Randolph and Shady Grove roads in particular are plagued with tire-busting potholes that should be patched immediately. But he also said officials will need even more money to pay for street resurfacing at a time when county funds are scarce.

"This is something we have to do," Andrews said. "We can't let our streets deteriorate."

Andrews said a one-mile stretch along Shady Grove Road near Interstate 370 is so riddled with potholes that cars weave slowly through cracks in the street as if on an obstacle course.

"I've never seen so many potholes," Andrews said. "You can't drive on that road without hitting a pothole; there are too many to avoid. A fair chunk of the roadway is gone."

The potholes, Andrews said, are a public safety concern. "It's a hazard and it interferes with traffic moving safely."

County Council President Michael L. Subin (D-At Large) agreed the potholes should be fixed quickly, but he said the costs will be high.

"We have a horrendous pothole problem," Subin said. "It's going to cost a lot of money to put in temporary patches. We have not calculated the costs yet, but we know we're talking about a lot of money."

County officials said residents can report potholes by visiting the county's Web site at www.montgomerycountymd.gov and filling out a short form online.

Cynthia Rubenstein, a community activist from Long Branch, said there are many potholes to report. Driving along Wayne Avenue in Silver Spring, she said, is "risky business."

"It strikes fear in my heart when I hit a pothole," Rubenstein said. "It's truly bad. I've gotten to know the pothole locations on some routes over the past several weeks and now I can anticipate them."

John Thompson, chief of Montgomery County's highway division, said work crews arepatching roads, but he said new potholes will surface as snow continues to melt.

"With the thawing, there will be more potholes," said Thompson, who said potholes are caused by moisture seeping into the roads. "There are so many potholes that need to be addressed."

This winter created numerous conditions for potholes: plenty of moisture and numerous freeze-thaw cycles. Rain and melting snow seeped through cracks in the road's surface. As it froze, the water expanded, cracking the pavement.

Thompson said his crews are patching parts of Shady Grove Road and will work on the potholes "for as long as it takes."

Montgomery County officials face an estimated $12 million in snowstorm costs above the $2.6 million allocated originally. The costs include employee overtime, fuel for trucks, and salt and sand for roads, schools and Montgomery College.

The high price tag for snow removal comes at a time when the county is preparing for one of its toughest budget years ever -- a $320 million budget shortfall for fiscal 2004, which begins July 1.

Subin said the council has two options: draw on reserve funds or ask county agencies to make another set of cuts in department budgets. Subin said he is leaning toward asking for cuts.

Last week, the council sent letters to the Montgomery County Board of Education, the county's Park and Planning Commission and Montgomery College, asking each to help absorb some of the snow removal costs.

Derick Berlage, chairman of the Montgomery County Planning Board, said he will do what he can.

"We're aware of the severe budget challenges and we'll give the request careful consideration," Berlage said. Berlage said the council has asked his agency to reduce spending by 3 percent for the current budget cycle and said he met that goal, a savings of $2 million.

"This is a [new] request to find more savings," Berlage said. "We'll try hard."