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Maintenance Division – Potholes

James K. Polk Building, Suite 400
Nashville, TN 37243
Phone: (615) 532-3439
Fax: (615) 532-5995

Pothole Repair - Region Offices

POTHOLES

What makes a pothole?

Potholes are created when moisture seeps into the pavement, freezes, expands and then thaws. This weakens the pavement. Traffic loosens it even more, and it eventually crumbles and pops out. This graphic illustrates how potholes form.

Why do so many potholes occur in the spring?

Spring temperatures warm the cold pavement, melting and evaporating any ice. This creates air pockets that can eventually cause the pavement to break up. A winter of heavy snow or rain and several freeze-thaw cycles can mean a big pothole season ahead.

How are potholes repaired?

The pothole is carved out to create a neat rectangle. When the excess asphalt is removed, an adhesive is applied and asphalt is added in layers. It is leveled off and compacted with a pavement roller.

You filled a pothole, but a few days later it came back.  Why don’t the repairs last longer?

There are several reasons why a newly filled pothole may reopen:

  1. When conditions are cold or wet, the material used to patch potholes doesn’t stick as well to the surrounding pavement as when conditions are dry and warm.
  2. During the winter months, asphalt plants are closed and hot asphalt is not available until the spring. In the meantime, we will typically use a material called “cold mix” which isn’t always as durable.
  3. If the cause of the pothole is not corrected, such as water getting under the pavement, pothole patches may fail, or more potholes may form. The long-term solution is to repair and repave the road.

Ultimately, our goal is safety and we must repair potholes as soon as possible.

Do some roads have more potholes than others?

Roads with high traffic volumes have more potholes because of the amount of use. Bridges and ramps, which receive heavy doses of snow-removal chemicals in the winter, are more prone to potholes.

Can anything be done to prevent potholes?

Roads today are built to reduce their moisture capacity, and researchers are working to develop better, more durable pavement materials and designs. Researchers also have improved the cold-patch asphalt so those patches last longer.

Can I file a claim for damage to my vehicle?

If drivers hit a pothole and experience damage to their vehicle, they may submit a damage claim. Claims are investigated on a case-by-case basis through the Division of Claims Administration, an agency not associated with TDOT. Investigators review the circumstances, the type and location of the pothole, determine if TDOT had been previously notified of the issue, and if crews had been given a reasonable amount of time to repair the pothole.

Birth of a Pothole

The Birth of a
Pothole - Step 1
The Birth of a
Pothole - Step 2
The Birth of a
Pothole - Step 3
The Birth of a
Pothole - Step 4
Potholes begin after snow or rain seeps into the soil below the road surface. The moisture freezes when temperatures drop, causing the ground to expand and push the pavement up. As the temperatures rise, the ground returns to normal level but the pavement often remains raised. This creates a gap between the pavement and the ground below it. When vehicles drive over this cavity, the pavement surface cracks and falls into the hollow space leading to the birth of another pothole.

Explanation provided by the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Videos


Technical Details on Potholes:

http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/publications/research/infrastructure/pavements/ltpp/99202/99202.pdf