Ending the Pothole Predicament

Have you ever wondered why speed bumps never seem to denigrate, yet there are abundant potholes? The answer is that speed bumps are made of concrete and the streets are made of asphalt. However, the streets cannot be easily made with concrete as it does not respond well in large spans that are needed for streets. And, still others are amazed that potholes are almost non-existent on highways and freeways, but plentiful on lesser traveled streets in the city. We will explain this within this article.

Plaguing streets and rural roads, potholes torment motorists daily and are a costly endeavor for every community, worldwide. While there is no record of what is spent filling potholes, in the USA alone, drivers pay an estimated $3-billion a year to repair damages caused by potholes, according to American Automobile Association (AAA). The damages include tire punctures, bent wheels, and damage to the suspension system. Repairs for motorists can range from $250 to more than $1,000 according to AAA. However, the threat of vehicle damage is not as severe as the potential of having the steering wheel jerked out of your hands and end up losing control of the vehicle altogether.

Potholes are formed when moisture seeps into the small holes and cracks of asphalt and seeps into the lower layers. They are especially prevalent in areas where there are temperature swings and during rainy seasons. As temperatures fluctuate, the moisture cools and warms, creating expansion and contracting, which weakens the roadway and cracks the pavement. With the weight of cars and trucks, the road surface becomes increasingly damaged and eventually breaks apart, resulting in a pothole.

While potholes can sometimes form on major highways, most appear on city streets and rural roads, which are built to less stringent standards with thinner surfaces. This implies that potholes are a reflection of government spending on streets. If the government does not fill the small holes and cracks, they will grow into potholes that are more expensive to repair.

In areas where the streets are older and drainage is inadequate or lacking altogether, there is an underlying problem. The runoff of water can begin to flow under the street, and soften the earth under the asphalt. When this happens, no matter how many potholes are repaired, the problem will only get worse over time. The recourse is tear up the street, remove the soil and rehab the earth before resurfacing. Here, in Cuernavaca, a great proportion of the cities streets need resurfacing at a minimum and many need to be completely rebuilt. This is an extremely costly endeavor and beyond the budget of most cities. It becomes an issue of finances that can be allocated to the problems.

As we end the rainy season, you will begin to see streets blocked off for repairs as the workers play catch up on getting the potholes filled.  As one might expect, the more tony areas where politicians and the wealthy live will be repaired first. This will be followed by the major thoroughfares around the city. Depending on the severity of the rain that has fallen, the workers may stay busy until the next rainy season begins.

Solutions

Fixing the problem of potholes is not an easy endeavor. However, there are solutions that we can discuss. Other cities around the world have implemented various methods of tackling the potholes by using technology to find, track and fix them or figure out where they’re going to appear.

In those cities without adequate funding for technology, workers will fill out forms as the potholes are filled. This could be a solution, however in most cases the forms are simply filed away in the office and never studied. If the city had a chief data officer who would log the forms with date, time, and location of every pothole that is filled, these could be mapped. Studies can include details such as weather data, traffic volume, and pavement conditions to predict where potholes are most likely to appear. Some cities have partnered with local universities having students who are studying engineering, architecture, and government to assist in the studies by gathering the information.

A study of the map and details would point out where the potholes occur and their regularity, which would suggest which streets should be resurfaced or even point out underlying drainage problems. Using this data, those streets that have an abundance of potholes should be marked for refurbishing with more stringent standards and thicker surfaces, ending the problem of potholes.

The city would save money in the long run by making long-term repairs to pothole hot spots, rather than wait to patch them after they become a problem. By finding the cracks in streets before they become a pothole, the city can apply a sealant that can lower the possibility of potholes. This further reduces the amount of overtime needed to pay workers after hours for emergency repairs.

Cities with a bit more finances to allocate to street repair, are taking a more sophisticated approach. They install cameras on vehicles, and using GPS create video maps of the entire city. They then use artificial intelligence software to analyze the road surface shown in the videos, which searches for cracks and small fissures in the streets. As they locate the cracks and fissures the software is able to allocated crews to attend to problems. The crew knows exactly where to spray the sealant and can take care of the larger problems on a priority schedule. The software saves time and effort of having to send people out and inspect the streets, which is time-consuming when done on foot and can be dangerous to the workers.

An urban collective in Mexico City recently launched an intervention in Mexico City in which potholes on the streets were filled with exotic flowers and plants. And, yes, it was proving successful as drivers carefully maneuvered around the flowers and avoided the potholes. All was well until the nearby car repair shops who noticed a reduction in repairs began removing the flowers, causing drivers to support their businesses. Perhaps sharp pronged cactus would have been a better deterent.

A Potential Better Solution

The best solution may be found with an invention by a student of the Autonomous University of Coahuila. Israel Antonio Briseño has designed an auto-regenerative pavement, which earned him first place in an international competition organized by the Dyson Foundation.

While pavement that regenerates with water may sound like folly, it is a very real invention. Briseño uses a material that regenerates the binder within the pavement when water leaks occur.

Now what this young entrepreneur is seeking an alliance with a road construction company to do tests that are needed by the certification bodies.

Conclusion

Hopefully soon potholes will be a thing of the past. For now, keep your eyes on the road and watch out for potholes and by all means keep both hands on the steering wheel.