After harsh winter, MoDOT Pothole Patrol faces expensive task

Monday, March 10, 2014 | 7:44 p.m. CDT; updated 11:26 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, March 11, 2014
The Missouri Department of Transportation's new Pothole Patrol program aims to fill in all reported potholes within 24 hours of resident reports. Last year, the Central District filled more than 10,000 potholes across 18 counties.

COLUMBIA — A crew of five Missouri Department of Transportation workers pulled up to a stretch of pavement on Clark Lane on Monday morning.

Ahead of them on the segment of Clark, also known as state-maintained Route PP, was a string of potholes. Three men jumped out of the trucks, grabbed brooms and shovels, filled the holes and rolled truck tires over the pavement.


For state-maintained roads:

Call: 888-275-6636



For roads maintained by the city:

For roads maintained by Boone County:

  • Residents can report problems by going online to the Public Works website and completing a form online by clicking on the link at the bottom left of the page.
  • Residents also can call the department at 449-8515.

Fewer than 20 minutes had passed, and 15 feet of potholes had been plugged.

Monday marked the start of the second annual Pothole Patrol, a program offered by MoDOT, with a pledge to fill all reported potholes within 24 hours.

Last year, between March 18 and April 15, road crews filled at least 75,000 potholes statewide and used more than 3,000 tons of asphalt, according to MoDOT.

The Central District, which encompasses 18 counties including Boone County, filled more than 10,000 potholes and used an estimated 350 tons of asphalt.

On Monday morning, one of the Central District crews was dispatched to clean up an area in northeast Columbia, between Creekwood Parkway and New Market Boulevard on Clark Lane.

The process involved three vehicles — one carrying the materials, one to block traffic and one down the road to alert motorists.

In the lead truck, Kent Cunningham stopped, radioed his crew, checked his side mirror and stepped out.

He and another member of the crew began sweeping up loose chunks of pavement from the first hole until it was free of debris.

An adhesive called Pave On was poured into the crater and filled with "cold mix," an asphalt substitute used during the winter months as a temporary solution.

The winter patch material is composed of oil and rocks and typically applied manually. It's a "shovel and roll" process, MoDOT maintenance superintendent Mike Belt said.

"Hot mix" is the preferred method for eliminating potholes and is usually applied in the summer. This material is a combination of rock, sand and cement, injected with oil and heated to around 340 degrees, he said.

After the holes on Clark Lane were filled, Cunningham jumped back in his truck and rolled the tires over the pavement three times, compressing the surface and ensuring that the road was smooth.

A typical pothole requires 25-30 pounds of patch material. With supplies and labor, each pothole costs roughly $200 to fix, said Central District engineer Dave Silvester.

This year has been especially tough in terms of dealing with potholes and the financial ramifications, he said.

Between December and early March, MoDOT spent $62 million on maintenance expenses including  salaries, overtime pay, equipment and chemicals, he said.

The previous five years, MoDOT spent an average of $42 million per year during this same period.

MoDOT has 5,100 employees. In Columbia, 17 maintenance workers are dedicated to the Pothole Patrol program, said Sally Oxenhandler, a MoDOT customer relations manager.

During the patrols, two crews, each with five workers, will be out patching roads and filling potholes around Columbia, she said.

Due to fluctuating temperatures, the typical time of year for potholes is later winter and early spring.

During warmer conditions, rain and melting snow seep into pavement, and when temperatures drop at night, the water freezes and expands, causing cracks and bulges, according to MoDOT.

As automobiles drive over affected areas, chunks of pavement dislodge from the road, causing the holes.

There is a science to patching these potholes, Silvester said. "Our guys take this very seriously."

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