Clark Asks: Road crews fill potholes with help of a long, dry summer

By Jake Thomas, Columbian staff writer

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"When are all the potholes going to get fixed?" Judy in Vancouver

Since last winter’s particularly snowy season, potholes have been on the mind of many Clark County drivers.

Judy, a Vancouver resident who didn’t want her last name published, said she drives frequently for her job as a caregiver, and she’s driven multiple roads that are pocked with potholes. She said some are so bad that she thinks they need to be repaved.

“I’m tired of it,” she said. “And I know I’m not the only one.”

She submitted the following question to Clark Asks, “When are all the potholes going to get fixed?”

The answer, it seems, is that it’s going to be an ongoing process.

Potholes form when ice, snow or rain seeps in the pavement through cracks. The moisture beneath the surface expands when temperatures drop. When it drains off, a gap forms underneath the pavement, which crumbles into a pothole when a vehicle drives over it.

Construction crews typically make most repairs to roads between spring and fall when it’s not rainy. The last winter was particularly snowy, which means that the city of Vancouver and Clark County have had their work cut out for them.

“The city of Vancouver Public Works Street crews are actively filling potholes throughout the year on an ongoing basis, in addition to responding to specific pothole reports provided by the public,” wrote city spokeswoman Loretta Callahan in an email.

According to a breakdown of numbers from the city of Vancouver, crews filled 3,740 potholes between March and August. Crews did most of their work between March and April, filling 1,465 and 1,330 potholes respectively. In August, they filled 165.

According to Callahan, the city used about 62 tons of asphalt cold mix, which is used to patch potholes, during this year’s pothole repair season. In 2016, the city filled an estimated 6,000 potholes and 2,238 in 2015, according to Callahan.

“We’re on track to match close to what was done in 2016, but it is all weather dependent,” said Ryan Lopossa, transportation manager, for Public Works. “Check back in 2018.”

On the county side, Scott Wilson, road maintenance division manager, said the county uses cold mix asphalt material for smaller potholes. He said the county doesn’t track how many potholes it fills but said it’s used 292 tons of the material so far this year. Wilson said that in 2016, the county used 134 tons of cold mix.

“And the year is not over yet,” he said.

“With the return of rainy weather, we expect an uptick in potholes and pothole requests due to water getting into the pavements and breaking down weak areas that have been stable in the dry weather,” said Ryan Miles, street operations program manager, in an emailed statement. “City crews will respond to requests as they come in, as well as fill new potholes as we find them.”

According to Callahan, the city is taking preventative measures by rehabilitating streets and sealing them to keep moisture out and stop potholes from forming.

Wilson said the long dry summer has been helpful in getting potholes filled, although he added that the smoke from nearby wildfires didn’t help. Wilson said that the county responds to any reports of potholes and it created a list of which roads are most damaged so it can prioritize repairs to those that are more traveled.

“Obviously we are still working on that list,” said Wilson.

As the potential for another icy winter approaches, Wilson said that the county will keep its fingers crossed.