Potholes are the universal bane of motorists across the country. They’re also among the top complaints public works and transportation agencies receive from the public.
Their presence is so ubiquitous that officials are using a variety of methods to manage pothole reporting and tracking. They’re also extending their repair efforts beyond the old “two guys and bag of cold patch” approach.
Many cities conduct what’s been collectively called a “pothole blitz,” which is usually held in the spring. These bursts of repair activity typically happen over a short period, just a few days, with the emphasis on patching as many potholes as possible.
Earlier this year, Indianapolis patched 900 potholes over four days, beating the goal public works officials had set for 700 potholes. Buffalo, New York, held two blitzes this year to tackle its potholes.
The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) holds its own version of a blitz, called the Pothole Patrol.
“It is typically held during the month of March, but it is sometimes shifted depending on the type and severity of our winter,” says MoDOT State Maintenance Engineer Becky Allmeroth. “We ask the public to help us identify pothole locations using a variety of tools and then we make every effort to have the pothole repaired within 24 hours.”
Potholes are one of the agencies top priorities, she adds: “A pothole, if left unattended, can cause significant damage to vehicles, can cause additional damage to the roadway and can create a serious safety concern if a vehicle is damaged or when drivers swerve to avoid the pothole.”
MoDOT’s yearly pothole budget is in the $15 million to $16 million range, and on any given day in March, Allmeroth says, it’s not unusual to have 300 pothole patching crews working on the state’s roads. Though the agency can provide these figures, it gave up on estimating the actual number of potholes repaired. “We quit trying to count our number of potholes several years ago,” Allmeroth adds.
The city of Des Moines, Iowa, repairs roughly 7,000 potholes each year, according to Sara Thies, street maintenance administrator for the Des Moines Department of Public Works.
Although the city does not have a specified budget for pothole repair, it does make fixing them one of its major priorities. “All potholes are patched within two business days after we receive notice,” Thies adds.
Knowing where potholes are located is a top challenge for states and municipalities, so agencies provide multiple ways for the public to report them.
Des Moines will take notifications by phone, email, website and smartphone app, Thies reports. MoDOT also provides this, as well as an integration into work orders.
“We utilize a customer service database where all reported roadway problems are reported and then sent out to the local maintenance building,” Allmeroth explains. “Once repaired, the local crews will close out the report.”
A simple pothole patch is one thing, but more extensive road damage calls for a more complex approach.
“We utilize an ARAN (Automatic Road Analyzer) van to help determine the condition of the roadway,” Allmeroth says. “That paired with an IRI (International Roughness Index) and the number of customer calls help prioritize the timing and type of treatment a roadway will receive.”
Thies says number and proximity help determine the approach.
“If the potholes are close and frequent, we will do a mill and inlay in the area,” she says. “We usually limit mill and inlays to 300 feet in length. More than that and it should be completely resurfaced.”
Allmeroth says MoDOT uses multiple types of pothole patching equipment across the state, with most being trailer mounted.
“The most common machines we have are Falcon Pothole Patchers, Spaulding Pothole Patchers, and Weiler TT250 Pull Tack Tanks,” she says. “If the repairs require any larger equipment, then we typically contract out the repairs.”
Thies says Des Moines uses Bergkamp patch heaters, and kettles with three-person operations.
This equipment use has been pretty standard for both agencies, and MoDOT in particular doesn’t have plans to make changes. However, Allmeroth says the department is reviewing the equipment to expand capabilities.
“We currently have a fleet and equipment team that is analyzing all of our fleet and equipment,” she says. “I expect to see recommendations come from that team for more multifunctional fleet and equipment.”
Since the type of equipment plays such a large role in pothole repair management, here’s a look at some of the products available on the market:
Bergkamp reports its SP5 Spray Injection Pothole Patcher is designed for simple pothole repair using a spray injection patching process that cleans out and repairs potholes quickly, which reduces traffic disruption. The machine uses the Bergkamp InPave Mobile Technology Pothole Patching Management System to allow contractors and government agencies to monitor and manage performance of the repair. The system provides monitoring of production, performance and location of the machine and repair site. This data can then be automatically transmitted or downloaded.
Crafco says its trailer-based Magnum Spray Injection Patcher can repair a wide variety of pavement conditions including potholes, deteriorated shoulders, utility cuts, fissures and alligator cracked areas. The machine features an integrated operation that cleans the area to be repaired, applies a tack coat, coats the aggregate with asphalt emulsion and then applies the mixture in one continuous operation.
The coated aggregate is compacted during application using high velocity air with a screw auger, a process the company says leaves few voids in the final pavement repair. The machine has a 1,275-square-foot work area and can be operated with a two-person crew.
Falcon Asphalt Repair
Falcon offers an asphalt recycler and hot box that dumps asphalt with one-button operation. The company reports each dump box is built on a tandem axle trailer frame that cradles a lowered hopper using body guides to keep it centered, which provides stability. The dump box trailers are built with hydraulic cylinders that raise the hopper and prevent twisting from an uneven load. It’s available in capacities of 2, 3, 4 or 6 tons.
H.D. Industries Pro-Patch Pothole Patcher can work in various weather conditions and is designed to transport hot or cold asphalt pre-mix material and oils in controlled heated temperatures. The machines are available in 3-cubic-yard, 4.25-cubic-yard, 5-cubic-yard or 6-cubic-yard asphalt hoppers in truck chassis or trailer-mounted versions. The truck-mounted units are available in a heat transfer oil system, dry radiant heat system or all-electric system.
Ray-Tech offers a Total Maintenance Vehicle to use in infrared asphalt restoration, providing an entire system on one truck chassis. Located behind the cab, the machine features an asphalt reclaimer for storing and heating new or used asphalt. At the back is an 8-foot-by-6-foot heater that features the company’s infrared heating converter system. It also has an open deck with gas storage in addition to a compactor/single drum roller compartment and a side dump waste bin that dumps to one side by way of an electric winch. This winch also unloads the compactor on the opposite side of the truck. The unit is available in 2-, 3-, 4- or 6-ton reclaimer configurations.
Superior Roads Python 5000 Pothole Patcher is self-propelled and uses standard asphalt mixes. The company reports it can make continuous repairs to long cracks and joints in the road and one person can complete a patching operation without leaving the operator’s cab. An average hole can be patched in two minutes, Superior Roads reports, and it can work in sub-zero temperatures or in rain. The machine also can travel at highway speeds between jobsites. The working arm extends to 4 feet from the cab, with a 6-foot side-to-side motion.