OAKLAND, Calif. - Yes, the weather has placed us where we are in a period of pothole pandemonium with more potholes showing up by the hours. So, let’s look at why they are showing up and what's being done to prevent them in the future as never before. Even though we're about to go into a dry spell Thursday, years of failing to expect lots more potholes to appear.
Weather we have not seen in decades, even including the big rains of 2015, has taken a heavy toll on roads, most notably potholes and sinkholes. "For the whole month of January in 2022, we filled 209 potholes. Currently, midway through January this year, we're already working on 400 different locations where potholes have been reported," said Bart Ney, Caltrans regional spokesman.
Fact is, since road building is no longer a high priority, maintenance of existing roadways is high and now where the overwhelming majority of our higher gas tax money is going. But, we're now playing catch up on decades of deferred road maintenance where easily-fixed road cracks were neither sealed nor repaired.
Dozens of tires were blown out on Highway 101 near Redwood City on Monday, Jan. 16, 2023, due to a pothole on the freeway.
That allows water to get under the pavement causing current damage and future damage. "Comes down in through the cracks, gets underneath the asphalt or the concrete and then a vehicle drives over it. When it rains again, we expect more pieces to keep coming. That hydraulic pressure of squeezing it just pops the pieces out," said Professor John Harvey of the UC Pavement Research Center.
For almost 80 years, UC Berkeley and UC Davis have operated labs as the UC Pavement Center. These high science labs have advanced with the times and technologies to revolutionize roadways though better paving and patching materials. Every punishing test, such as advanced accelerated aging techniques, where materials, are repeatedly run over by steel wheels is utilized, plus all manner of flexing, pounding, heating and cooling. The results show how well or poorly the materials respond based on where they'll be used.
Make no mistake, potholes can be extremely dangerous to property, drivers, passengers, cyclists and road workers. "If you're going fast enough and it's big enough and deep enough, it can cause injury," said Professor Harvey.
States, county and city road crews are all scrambling throughout California. "Sometimes our maintenance crews can be strung a little bit short especially in periods like this where we have a lot of rainfall and we have to respond very quickly to them," said Ney of Caltrans.
That's why the first fix is usually temporary to reopen the road. Crews comer back when it's less busy to make more permanent repairs.But, these storms are increasing more immediate attention.