The science of potholes: Why are they so big? Well, there is a reason this year's are so bad

SUMMIT CO., Ohio - Alan Brubaker points at a broken-up piece of pavement with a puddle of water resting over it.

“That's a guaranteed pothole when you got a spot that looks like that,” Brubaker says.

He's the Summit County Engineer assigned to work with the county’s townships.

Brubaker says the reason area potholes are so bad this year is due to the freeze-thaw cycle we’ve experienced, which has seen some days feel as cold as -30 and -40 below.

“With the winter, when it gets really cold, the surfaces shrink. And so anytime pavements shrink, it’s going to find its weakest point to open up a crack and once that crack opens, we have much more ability for the pothole to occur.”

On the Summit County Engineer’s website , you can see, in more detail, how the potholes form. 

Water makes its way down into the crack and underneath the pavement. When this happens and “when the ground freezes, it expands and tends to blow up the ground under the road,” Brubaker says.

There’s a certain level under the ground where this all happens called the “Frost Zone," he explains. 

“When we build our homes,” he said, “there’s codes that say we have to build our homes below the frost level. That’s so we don’t get that upward heaving of your foundation of your home and I would crack. If we can build roads and we can afford to build them deep enough to be below the Frost Zone, which is going to be at least 32” of pavement, 36” or maybe 40” in some areas, we just don’t have--never had--the money to build that way.”

“Most of our roads were built back before modern heavy vehicles, often they were buggy paths and things that just got paved over and so the depth of the surface, the frost-freeze zone is just not there in most of our roads,” Brubaker adds.

In his opinion, Brubaker says the best thing cities can do is resurface their roads on a reasonable cycle to keep as much water from seeping into the pavement as possible. 

As much as we need the patches, Brubaker tells NewsChannel5, after a while it’s just wasting money.

“I’ve been driving very slow and very carefully during this weather,” he said, making sure to avoid this year’s monstrous potholes.

“The worst one I’ve hit has been in this parking lot!”

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