Anatomy of a Pothole

A winter with heavy snow or rain and many cycles of freezing and thawing can mean lots of potholes in the spring. Why does this happen? Water from melting snow and ice seeps into pavement and the sub-material between pavement and the soil below.  When repeated spells of cold weather occur, the water in the pavement refreezes and expands, breaking up the pavement at and below the road surface. When the ice melts again, the resulting gaps inside the pavement and moisture soften the asphalt.  The damaged asphalt cannot support the weight of cars – as more vehicles pass over the weakened spot, pieces of pavement get broken away, leaving behind a hole.

Viewer Tip: In most areas, you can report potholes to your city streets department or the state transportation department for repair.  If you hit a pothole in your vehicle and notice steering problems, low tire pressure or visible bulges or blisters on your tires, it is a good idea to have a professional check your vehicle for damage and make any necessary repairs.

Video from Utah Department of Transportation:

(Sources: Virginia Department of Transportation. “Getting to the Bottom: How do Potholes Form?” and Reuters, January 2008. “Beware of Potholes, Says Car Coucil.”

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