Question: What causes potholes?

Rgaude is asking a question about general
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by Rgaude | March 26, 2021 15:11 | #26039

I live in LaPlace, Louisiana (near New Orleans), and I was brainstorming ideas about local environmental problems when potholes came to mind. I have a lot of questions about them: what causes potholes? how are potholes fixed? how are they prevented? and does soil affect them?


@Rgaude great local observation where you live! I also have a lot of potholes near where I live in Tacoma, Washington. Our local newspaper the Tacoma Weekly used to do this fun community-led feature about pothole woes on our streets, which you can view here for some inspiration:

It could be an activity to stir up some local attention with your local media outlets! Photos are strong sources for community science evidence.

I will see if I can dig up more for you on your original question...

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We are told (northern Ohio) that we have the most potholes in the country. Why? Because this part of the country has the most freeze/ thaw cycles. Don't know if it's true.

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The freeze-thaw cycle part is also what i've most often heard about the cause of New York City potholes. What i mostly gathered from that is that in "water vs asphalt", water is gonna win, but this would be a good topic for the authors to look into further. Other bits i've heard:
- If water pools too long on top of the road, due to lack of proper cross slope grading to shed the stormwater runoff or due to clogged drains, that would a contributing factor. - If groundwater is high and rises up and buckles the roadbed from below, that would be a contributing factor. - Additionally, if roadbeds aren't engineered for the heavy weight of trucks that drive on them, that additional wear-and-tear will break down the layers of paving.

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I'm in New Orleans and deal with many issues from subsidence causing potholes and un-leveling homes. This blog has a really good summary of the issue:

One of the biggest problems we have is that our grey infrastructure (the sewer system, canals, and other ways that we manage water in the city) don't allow rainwater to penetrate the soil and refill groundwater reservoirs. This causes subsidence and can also lead to sinkholes.

Here's a fun article on "Sinkhole de Mayo" a few years ago.

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