The Cost of Potholes

According to a 2014 survey commissioned by Trusted Choice and the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America, poor road conditions have cost consumers and the insurance industry approximately $27 billion over a 5 year period. Furthermore, the survey revealed that between 2009 and 2014, half the car owners suffered damage to their vehicles as a result of potholes.

The arrival of Spring 2017 is just around the corner. Most of the U. S east of the Rocky Mountains will welcome warmer temperatures. There will be grass instead of snow. Many streets will be filled with potholes.

There is the likelihood of potholes whenever there has been precipitation, freezing temperatures and traffic. Severe potholes lead to accidents. This cost of potholes has an impact on insurance rates, because premiums are determined by past claims, accidents and driving violations.

The pothole survey revealed that 31 per cent of car owners who reported pothole damage had to repair their autos as a result. They filed a claim with their insurance company. Approximately 65 per cent of respondents who needed repairs said they (or a third party) paid out of pocket for the vehicle to be repaired.

Every time water gets into a crack and then freezes, the crack expands by about 10 per cent. The repeated freeze-thaw nature of winter and spring guarantees that potholes will form. Potholes cannot be repaired during winter. This is because asphalt plants close for the winter in northern latitudes.  Furthermore hot asphalt cools too quickly to be applied.

In most places, departments of transportation make do with a temporary cold patch that only offers a solution for a few weeks. In Boston, record snowfall and unpleasant weather has crippled the city since mid-January.  Street crews have set up orange cones in the worst of the potholes.  They lack the resources to repair them immediately. In the spring and summer, pothole repair crews are deployed.

There are several methods of pothole repair that are being tested.

  • A silly putty-like material contained in a Kevlar bag is placed in the pothole to ensure temporary safety. The bag is removed when a permanent repair can be done.
  • Indiana’s Street Department is attending to potholes in a two-step process. One crew clears the hole with a propane torch to melt ice in the hole and a high-power leaf blower to clear out water and loose debris. The second crew follows with cold mix asphalt and roller.
  • Michigan contracts with a pothole specialist company for a couple of weeks in late winter to repair streets with a four-part plan. The area is first blown dry. Next, a tacking material is applied. This is followed by the asphalt and loose-stone layer on top. During the fourth step, a steam-roller is used to flatten the fill. This costs extra and is sometimes not used, allowing traffic itself to compress the material.

  • Using infrared technology, a heating unit is lowered onto the street from a truck. The hole is heated to ensure that the surrounding pavement is more likely to bond with the replacement asphalt.

Most of these innovations are in years two, three or more of testing, however, the majority of states and municipalities continue two-season process of temporary fixes in winter and more permanent pothole repairs in the warmer, drier months.

For example, the cost of potholes in Phoenix is going to be $7.1 billion. This will keep the Phoenix street network from falling into disrepair. Ray Dovalina, Phoenix Street transportation director said that he has less than $2 billion in revenue and is therefore trying to find more than $5.1 billion to reduce the cost of potholes.

Phoenix maintains 750 miles of arterial roads or “mile streets” and 3,700 miles of local streets. Without ongoing maintenance, that’s a lot of potential potholes to fill. Those numbers don’t separate out the bridges, wash crossings and sidewalks that need to be maintained.

Dovalina’s goal is to reduce the street life cycle to 30 years. This means that the city wants to be able to rebuild roads every three decades. With current funds, the life cycle is 60 years, which means that the city is forced to spend millions in additional maintenance money to keep streets from falling apart. The new five year transportation budget includes 1,100 new bike lanes and 170 miles of sidewalks, plus 200 new LED traffic lights.