Flat tired of potholes? IDOT searches for a cure

  • Some potholes, including this one in the Lakewood Forest Preserve near Wauconda, can be harder to see because they are filled with water.

      Some potholes, including this one in the Lakewood Forest Preserve near Wauconda, can be harder to see because they are filled with water. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

  • A huge pothole on the southbound ramp off Dundee Road onto Route 53 in Palatine lies in wait for drivers.

      A huge pothole on the southbound ramp off Dundee Road onto Route 53 in Palatine lies in wait for drivers. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Large potholes on Mount Prospect Road in Mount Prospect, just south of Northwest Highway, make driving treacherous.

      Large potholes on Mount Prospect Road in Mount Prospect, just south of Northwest Highway, make driving treacherous. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • A large pothole has opened up along Walnut Avenue in the eastbound lanes just past Vandalia Street in Elgin.

      A large pothole has opened up along Walnut Avenue in the eastbound lanes just past Vandalia Street in Elgin. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • A large pothole on Irving Park Road in Roselle could make life miserable for some unlucky drivers.

      A large pothole on Irving Park Road in Roselle could make life miserable for some unlucky drivers. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

 
 
Posted2/11/2019 5:30 AM

There's nothing like a gaping pothole to turn a normal drive into a reflex-testing thrill ride that could devour a tire or decimate your suspension.

That includes the 3-foot-wide monster stalking Laura Lee's car every time she pulls onto the ramp from Dundee Road to southbound Route 53 in Palatine.

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"I have to swerve to the left side of the pavement to avoid it," Lee said.

Elsewhere, Route 132 in Gurnee is a minefield for resident Allain Oller. West of I-94, "there is a series of potholes that require some evasive maneuvers," he said.

So, are potholes inevitable? The Illinois Department of Transportation hopes to crack the case of the pesky pit soon.

But first, what causes a pothole? To begin, you need cracked pavement, often a result of heavy truck traffic. When precipitation seeps inside the crack and becomes trapped, freezing temperatures will turn the moisture into ice. The ice heaves the pavement up and the cracks grow.

Passing vehicles continue to weaken the pavement, and when thawing occurs, more water is collected. With continued freezing and thawing, the road surface eventually collapses.

And although salting prevents slippery roads, the calcium chloride "does have properties that degrade the cementitious parts of the concrete and some of the tar's properties in asphalt," Cook County Transportation and Highways Superintendent John Yonan explained.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

For the last few years, IDOT researchers with the University of Illinois' Center for Transportation have dissected asphalt mixes to find the most crack-resistant and weed out the weak links.

A test was developed in 2016 called the Illinois Flexibility Index Test, or IFIT, that measured how asphalt mixes reacted to bending, and then field tests began.

By 2020, IDOT hopes to offer a recipe for a superior asphalt that "should improve cracking resistance of all of our mixes and in the process address some of the issues we get under really cold weather," District 1 Bureau Chief of Materials George Houston said.

That breakthrough is limited to asphalt, although concrete is less susceptible to potholes, engineers say.

Other ways of preventing potholes are sealing up cracks immediately and maintaining roads consistently, said Rick Nelson, an engineer with the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Prepping for potholes

Drivers can guard against pothole damage by properly inflating tires before driving, Lisle Deputy Police Chief Ron Wilke advised.

Do not swerve out of the lane of traffic to avoid a pothole, but "maneuver the vehicle slightly if possible," Wilke said. "Allow ample following distance from other vehicles to allow for greater reaction time."

And if there's no escape, slow down before driving over the pothole but don't brake directly over it, he said. "Keep two firm hands on the steering wheel, as hitting potholes may cause a sudden change in direction."

Farmers Insurance also recommends leaving plenty of space between your car and the next in pothole territory.

Who pays?

So you've hit a pothole and your car is in pain. Ask your insurance company if you can file a claim. About 500,000 pothole damage claims are filed a year in the U.S., Farmers reported. Also, check with the jurisdiction that owns the road -- be it IDOT, the Illinois tollway, county or municipality -- to see if they'll reimburse for repairs. This also allows you to report the pothole. For IDOT, go to idot.illinois.gov/home/faq. For the Illinois tollway, call *999 to report a pothole or visit illinoistollway.com/travel-information.

Pothole fixes

How do you repair potholes? When transportation officials are looking for a quick way to fill a hole in bad weather, they'll turn to the "cold-patch" method where asphalt material is dumped into the opening, regardless of whether it has water or debris in it, and compacted, the American Public Works Association reported. Hot-patch, a longer-lasting fix, involves clearing out the hole, placing heated asphalt in it and compacting it.

Your voice

Pothole spotters Bob and Heather Ray of Bartlett are all over the problem.

Areas to avoid include Grand Avenue in Elmhurst, Schick Road in Bartlett and Lake Street in Bloomingdale, where "all the drivers were weaving around to avoid hitting them."

Got a pothole horror story? Share by emailing mpyke@dailyherald.com.

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