Anyone who has driven anywhere over the past two months has been dealing with the winter/spring equivalent to the mosquito – potholes.
It’s always a nuisance we deal with but this year it’s more pronounced than is seen in a typical year as winter turns to spring. They’re on highways, county roads, city streets and parking lots. We tend to notice the problems that are closest to home, but Wright County Highway Maintenance Superintendent Nate Helgeson said we’re far from alone in dealing with pocked pavement.
“This isn’t just a Wright County thing,” Helgeson said. “It seems like it doesn’t matter where you go, you’re seeing potholes and some of them are really bad. I’ve driven around in other counties and they’re just everywhere.”
So why has this year seen the pothole season come earlier, last longer and be more of a problem? There isn’t one answer. There are several answers.
“It has been worse this year than most years,” Helgeson said. “It’s been because of the warmer temperatures we had this winter. We had a lot more of the freeze-thaw cycle than we typically have. When you have a hole or a crack in the pavement anywhere, water will get in them and we’ve had a lot of snow/rain combination storms this winter. The problem is that it seemed like for a couple of months we would get snow every three days or so and a lot of those storms started off as rain events. Usually when you get a storm pass through you have a week or so after of decent weather that allows traffic to pack in the patching material used to fill potholes. We just never had that this winter.”
The combination of frequent storms, pavement that gets saturated, aging road surfaces and vehicle traffic of all kinds have converged to make this one of the worst pothole seasons in recent memory.
“There are a lot of factors that are all causes,” Helgeson said. “You have moisture getting into the roadway. You have freezing and thawing. You have vehicles running over the patched up spots, especially at intersections where they stop and start. You have plows scraping the snow and ice off the road surface that will catch the patches. All of those things chip away at the patched up areas and the more your repeat that the more it widens the pothole.”
While many drivers feel like they’re playing a live-action game of Frogger by veering left and right to avoid the worst potholes, if there is any consolation it’s that potholes aren’t new to the Minnesota experience. While they’re aggravating, they’ve been around for a long time and they’ve come to symbolize the arrival of spring almost as much as the return of songbirds.
“If you live in Minnesota, you know that potholes are a problem that we deal with every year,” Helgeson said. “The only difference is that the weather has set up consistently all winter to make the problem worse this year than most.”