Potholes can be avoided by spending more on road upkeep

Communities can limit the number of potholes they experience each winter if they spent more money upfront on maintaining roads:

The answer doesn’t lie in a revolutionary new cement or asphalt mix — yet, experts say. Instead, it comes down to a few simple things: quality materials, experienced builders, plus regular road maintenance and reconstruction.

“A lot of things cause potholes, but at the core they’re caused because we don’t do enough road maintenance. We push our roads too far and too hard,” said engineer Don Hillebrand, head of Argonne National Laboratory’s Transportation Research Center…

Avoiding potholes starts with getting it right the first time, said Mohsen Issa, a University of Illinois at Chicago structural and materials engineering professor…

Hillebrand, a former auto executive with Chrysler and Mercedes-Benz, spent time in Germany, where “they view roads as a serious thing and spend much more on road maintenance than we do and expect them to last longer,” he said. Deeper foundations and thicker concrete help preserve German roads, he noted.

Roads seem to be the sort of thing many people don’t pay attention to until things start going wrong. However, as this article notes, roads have to be built well and continually maintained. This requires a good deal of resources that people may not want to spend until something goes wrong. Yet, when things do go wrong, fixes are not necessarily quick or easy. This provides a classic lesson in infrastructure: spending money upfront pays off down the road.

A question: just how many pothole stories can the media run this winter?

Roads still susceptible to potholes

A Google News search for the last week brings up hundreds of news stories about potholes. It is a familiar cycle: water gets on the roads, freezing temperatures cause the water to expand, potholes emerge on lots of roads. See diagrams and video about pothole formation here.

Is there any way to build roads that don’t have these problems? Here is one answer:

Which holds up better — concrete or asphalt? “Asphalt can sometimes be a more porous material than concrete depending on the depth of the asphalt surface. As a result, it can be more prone to a freeze-thaw cycle,” Shuftan said.

However, DuPage County Transportation Committee Chairman Don Puchalski said it’s all about maintenance. “The condition of the pavement keeps moisture from penetrating the riding surface,” Puchalski said.

Can’t we build pothole-proof roads? Engineering professor Imad Al-Qadi thinks we can do better. “Through better engineering of the materials and pavement systems, roads can withstand extreme temperatures and cycles of freezing and thawing,” Al-Qadi wrote in an email.

For asphalt, using proper binder and aggregate materials that aren’t susceptible to moisture, freezing or thawing can minimize damage.

For concrete, using the right chemical mixtures can control freezing and thawing. Proper spacing and using more steel in the concrete slabs can also control warping, Al-Qadi said.

This makes it sound like the best pothole solution might be more monitoring and money when roads are originally built. Who is going for pay for that? Surrey, England has gone with “pothole-proof” roads that have a 10 year guarantee:

But in an attempt to find a more permanent solution, the council has begun a five-year, £100 million plan to re-lay the county’s worst roads with new materials which carry a decade-long “no pothole” guarantee…

At the moment the council says it is carrying out a pothole repair every five minutes but the new roads, which have more flexible watertight surfaces, should overcome the problem…

About 300 miles of road will be repaired and the 10-year warranty means any potholes would be repaired by contractors Aggregate Industries and Marshalls.

So there might still be potholes but at least the road-builder will take care of it.

If the roads always have this problem, you could instead with a car that stands up better to potholes:

Honda cars are the most resilient to pothole damage, saving drivers hundreds of pounds in repairs each year, according to research by Potholes.co.uk.

The road maintenance campaign website analysed about 150,000 policies issued by Warranty Direct over three years to reveal the cars most and least susceptible to damage caused by the nation’s biggest bugbear – potholes…

After Honda, the most “pothole-proof” manufacturers are Toyota and Hyundai, with less than two per cent of their cars suffering axle and suspension damage attributable to potholes and other road defects.

Chrysler, Mercedes-Benz and Land Rover models are the most likely to suffer, with more than 10 per cent suffering damage each year.

Or you can just pay for some pothole-resistant tires.

All together, this is an annoying reminder that maintaining roads can be quite difficult. If they all have problems, it is very difficult to fix them quickly.