Blowouts, swerving, coffee spills, front-end misalignment, road construction, traffic jams, fender benders, lawsuits, higher taxes . . . these are a few of the annoyances Americans suffer because of the estimated 100 million potholes in the U.S.
Department of Transportation crews work almost non-stop patching holes, but like an infectious disease, the potholes multiply faster than crews can fill them. The repairs are not permanent, lasting only a few months to a year, so the same potholes must be refilled several times until construction crews can eventually tear out and reconstruct entire segments of highways. Furthermore, the short-term fixes do nothing to prevent long-term deterioration. Water seeps through the temporary patches under the aging roads, which causes further pothole damage, especially during freeze and thaw cycles.
Some state governments are still fighting potholes via traditional methods, upping budgets each year to cover the rising number. More proactive states such as Louisiana are investing in innovative new programs to find long-term solutions. The goal is to maximize proactive, long-term improvements and minimize the amount spent on "quick fixes." If this is done well, the overall amount of money needed for road maintenance will be substantially reduced.
The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development has looked into long-term solutions to pothole problems. One material they have qualified for pothole repair is based on a relatively new technology called Permafill, which comprises a functional copolymer-based filling material. Permafill is used in holes that form around metal joints to repair and protect the joint from long-term damage. It also has been used on major concrete roads, such as I-10 and I-55 in Louisiana. Potholes filled with the substance three and four years ago are still holding up in the Bayou.
According to tests conducted by Permafill, these potholes may never have to be refilled because the patch will last for the lifetime of the road. Early test patches in Texas so far have lasted nine years. The material prevents water seepage, and because of its adhesive qualities, flexibility and its ability to absorb shock, patches remain secure under traffic and weather stresses.
For an average-size pothole, the company estimates that materials, labor and equipment cost is approximately $33.25 for Permafill versus $13 for the typical "throw & go" asphalt repair method. However, since a pothole repaired by the "throw & go" method has the possibility of being refilled up to five times per year, the savings can be significant: approximately $33.25 for Permafill versus $65 for "throw & go." This indicates that a state DOT, by filling 2,000 potholes this year, could save $63,500. If they dont have to refill those potholes ever again, they will save an additional $130,000 each year.
Louisiana is not the only state seeking long-term solutions to the growing costs of pothole repair.
Cranston "Chan" Rogers, while an employee of CRS in Houston, was impressed with the performance of Permafill in field tests he helped conduct in the Houston area in the late 80s. "The patches have proven to last longer than the streets," he said. Now Rogers works in Boston as vice president of transportation for the McGuire group and is involved in the single largest public works project in the world, "The Big Dig" in Boston. Rogers believes state governments can do more to reduce pothole repair costs.