Hate potholes? Well, unless you and your elected officials are ready to cough up billions more for better roads and proper preventive maintenance, buckle up, ‘cause it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
“What people have to understand is you can’t have a pothole without first having a crack in the pavement surface,” says engineer Larry Galehouse, director of the National Center for Pavement Preservation, a quasi-government entity affiliated with Michigan State University. “Agencies have been cash-strapped for a number of years, and now it’s all coming home to roost.”
And despite all the advances in patching materials and equipment in recent years, engineers say that until someone ponies up, it’s going to remain a case of patch as patch can.
“If you’ve got a pavement in poor condition that’s got a lot of alligator cracking … where water is getting into the pavement and freezing and thawing, it’s going to break up the structure,” says Kevin J. Haas, a traffic investigations engineer with the Oregon Department of Transportation in Salem. “It’s just the law of sciences and physics and thermodynamics and whatever other laws you want to throw in there.”
This winter, the law is coming down hard on Americans.
In New York City, road crews have patched a record 136,476 potholes since Jan. 1. The Department of Transportation had filled just under 57,000 by this same time in 2013.
New Englanders, famous for their meteorological stoicism, are reeling from what Boston Public Works Commissioner Mike Dennehy calls a “pothole eruption.”
“We filled our 6,000th pothole this morning since Jan. 1,” Dennehy said Tuesday. Last year’s comparable figure was about 1,600.
The pace was even too much for the city’s vaunted “Potzilla” - a massive truck that keeps the fill material hot en route to worksites. An electrical failure last weekend caused the heating core and hydraulic augers to quit, forcing workers to shovel up to 2 tons of dried asphalt from the machine’s bowels before the beast could hit the roads again, Dennehy says.
In Philadelphia, they’re not even attempting to keep count.
“We’re just trying to keep up as best we can,” says Gene Blaum, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
Since Dec. 1, PennDOT workers have applied more than 2,000 tons of patching material in the five counties around the City of Brotherly Love, says Blaum.
“It’s been a relentless winter season,” he says.
“It’s the recipe for potholes,” agrees Dennehy. “It’s just freeze-thaw-moisture, freeze-thaw-moisture, freeze-thaw-moisture.”
The Federal Highway Administration defines a pothole as “Localized distress in an asphalt-surfaced pavement resulting from the breakup of the asphalt surface and possibly the asphalt base course.” Climate and traffic combine to remove pieces of asphalt, leaving potholes - and localized distress for drivers.