Archive for Sunday, June 6, 2010

Road workers still seeking perfect solution to potholes

A motorist dodges a pothole Friday on Connecticut Street near 15th Street. After a long, hard winter, city officials and motorists are seeing a lot of them and figuring out how to fill them or avoid hitting them.

A motorist dodges a pothole Friday on Connecticut Street near 15th Street. After a long, hard winter, city officials and motorists are seeing a lot of them and figuring out how to fill them or avoid hitting them.

June 6, 2010


Pothole hot lines

To report a pothole for repair:

• In Lawrence, call the city’s Pothole Reporting Line, 832-3456, or fill out a form online, through the Public Works page at Crews attempt to address problems within 24 hours.

• In Eudora, call 785-542-3100. In Baldwin City, call 785-594-6907.

• On state highways, the Kansas Department of Transportation takes reports based on their county locations: Douglas, 785-528-3128; Johnson, 913-764-0987; Shawnee and Jefferson, 785-296-2291; and Leavenworth and Wyandotte, 913-721-2960.

Learn how a pothole forms

Watch videos at this link to see how a pothole is born.


Don’t bother asking Tom Orzulak about any breakthrough treatments for pothole repair, about whether he’s come across any high-tech materials or ultra-reliable methods for plugging those most stubborn of pavement problems.

The dream — call it the No-Fail Permanent Pothole Packer and/or Preventer — remains far off the map.

“I’ve been working on that for 30 years,” said Orzulak, street division manager for the city of Lawrence. “If I knew that, I’d be in Aruba enjoying all my money. But I’m not.”

No, he’s not. Nobody is.

Fixing a pothole in the variable weather conditions of the Midwest means adhering to essentially to the same process and materials that have been the industry standard for decades:

• When it’s cold, and potholes appear as fast or faster than they can be filled, crews quickly pour a temporary patch of “cold mix” pavement into potholes. Such repairs may last only a few days or few weeks, but can keep traffic moving smoothly and safely until warm weather arrives.

• In relatively warmer and drier conditions, crews often turn to “hot mix” pavement: a mixture of asphalt, rock and sand that is mixed together and maintained at between 230 and 310 degrees. Crews carefully “square off” the sides and bottom of a pothole, to enable a strong bond between the fresh material and existing road. The material then is compacted to reduce the chances of problems arising again.

Unfortunately, such repairs often don’t solve the problem that caused the pothole in the first place.

“It’s water in the subgrade,” said David Darwin, a distinguished professor of civil, environmental and architectural engineering at Kansas University, whose research focuses on extending the life of pavement on bridge decks. “Water expands when it freezes. Then you have trouble.”

It’s the dreaded freeze-thaw cycle: Water seeps under the top layer of pavement; water freezes, expanding enough to push the road surface upward; when the ice melts, the pavement drops back down again, eventually crumbling under the weight of passing traffic.

Darwin, who served in Vietnam, recalls working in areas with heavy rainfall. While the areas didn’t suffer from freezing, the practice of keeping things dry still held up.

“The roads I built in Vietnam, they’re still there,” he said. “The whole thing is to have really good drainage. You’ve got to keep the water out of the subgrade. It’s easy for me to say, but not all that easy to do.”

Researchers have created synthetic asphalt, come up with special strengthening fibers, and even equipped spray machines to apply asphalt pavement in a uniform manner.

“There’s been a ton of research that’s gone into filling potholes,” said Rex Fleming, project engineer for more than $150 million of reconstruction work along the Kansas Turnpike through and east of Lawrence. “But you still need to get out there with equipment, clean the hole out, dry it out and fill it in. It’s still the same work: Get out in traffic and get it taken care of.

“Hopefully somebody will find that magical answer for us.”

Terese Gorman, engineering division manager for Douglas County, said the best way to fix potholes was to prevent them in the first place. And the best way to do that is to build roads better in the first place.

“We’ve learned a lot about the subgrade and the moisture over these many eons of engineers,” Gorman said, who noted that soil treatments during construction can extend the lives of roads.

Orzulak, who started dealing with potholes back in 1980 while working with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, said roads should be expected to last 20 to 25 years.

While many governments employ various strategies to put off reconstruction for another decade or so, the end really is inevitable.

Turns out the only surefire way to seal potholes for good, or prevent them in the first place, would take a rather disruptive force of nature.

“If it’d get cold and stay cold,” Orzulak said, “we wouldn’t have potholes.”


George_Braziller 8 years ago

There's a killer pothole just west of the stop sign at 2nd and Michigan. It's narrow but deep and you don't even see it until you hit it.

thebigspoon 8 years ago

One of Lawrence's most heavily traveled entrances into town is a total embarressment to this community. Guess which street this is! Why in the world can't something be done about it! Oh, the street is east 23rd.

ralphralph 8 years ago

East 23rd is carrying all the traffic from the unbuilt SLT

Flap Doodle 8 years ago

One man's pot-hole is another man's traffic calming device. Right, merrill?

kseagle 8 years ago

I have a solution. Make the lazy city workers do their job and start patching the roads instead of just sitting around and "looking" at the potholes. Or better yet fire them all and get a local company in here that can do the job. Save tax payers money, shrink our local govt, and have nice roads for a change.

George_Braziller 8 years ago

"Lazy workers"? You've obviously never worked on a city maintenance crew. I did it for two summers when I was in college. There is a limit for how many people can be working on something at the exact moment you happen to drive by in your air conditioned car.

Why don't you stop and lend a hand sometime when it's 98 degrees outside and they're pumping concrete or installing a water line and the pavement is 120 degrees. Been there, done that.

It was only when the air temperature reach 105 degrees that we were allowed to stop for the day. Give it a try. You wouldn't last 15 minutes.

gccs14r 8 years ago

The mistake is in thinking that roads should last only 20-25 years. There are Roman roads still in use in Europe, 2,000 years after they were built. One would think that our modern civil engineers could be at least as smart as those guys were.

George_Braziller 8 years ago

Brick streets can last for 100 years or more. The "problem" is that people want to drive 40-50 mph through town to get to their Chicken McNuggets and they get pissed when they have to drive 20 or 30 mph on a brick street..

Bricks and stone are for the ages. Asphalt is for speed.

Richard Heckler 8 years ago

Don't build anymore streets until Lawrence can afford to fix what we have!!!

Building more streets is nothing more than a tax increase! How many more of these tax increases brought on by way of NEW infrastructure will Lawrence taxpayers condone before deciding it's time to move?

Richard Heckler 8 years ago

"There are Roman roads still in use in Europe, 2,000 years after they were built. One would think that our modern civil engineers could be at least as smart as those guys were. "

There are buildings that old as well.... very beautiful architecture.

Flap Doodle 8 years ago

"There are Roman roads still in use in Europe, 2,000 years after they were built."

I'm calling wild blueberry muffins on that statement.

"The key to building a road is that it is fit for purpose. It is important not to get too carried away by the fact that some Roman roads are still in existence. Remember that these roads carried an amount of traffic that, in terms of volume, weight and speed is, by today's standards, inconsequential. No Roman road would stand up to the punishment it would suffer if it tried to cope with today's traffic. It is a myth that some Roman roads are still in use. There are two means by which Roman roads still exist. The first is in places such as Pompeii where they do not carry traffic. The second is that a modern road has been built on the original route.

So, a road needs to be fit for purpose. It needs to be able to cope with the amount of traffic it carries, both in terms of its width and its structural strength. It needs to be able to cope with the type of traffic it carries (freight etc) and it needs to meet modern expectations (none of us would be satisfied with the bumpiness of the old Roman roads).

Thus, although the Romans were excellent engineers and built roads that were well-suited to their purpose, these roads would be of little use to us today and can offer little by way of lessons to modern engineers."

cozy 8 years ago

Hmm, concrete instead of asphalt. Theres an idea. Spend more at one time for concrete, but at least you dont have to pave over it and patch it almost every year spending more in the long run.

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