NJ Motorists Are Seeing More Potholes This Winter

By Lauren Wanko

Most drivers try to avoid them. Sometimes they’re unavoidable. That’s because lately they seem to be everywhere — potholes.

“We see a lot more holes cropping up this year,” said Belmar Public Works Assistant Superintendent Franny Hines.

The Belmar Public Works crew can’t keep track of the number of potholes they’ve filled so far this winter. Statewide, in the first two weeks of January, the Department of Transportation filled about 16,500 potholes compared to about 13,500 potholes filled in the same period last year. So why are the potholes popping up now?

“The snow and these very freezing cold temperatures where the snow and moisture in the ground just freezes and pushes the blacktop around,” said Hines.

Here’s how a pothole forms. Water from rain or snow seeps into small cracks in the road. Freezing causes the water to expand, leading to bigger cracks, and when the ice melts, gaps form on and below the surface. Heavy vehicles traveling over the weakened surface further break up the roadbed.

It’s keeping the Belmar Public Works team busy. First, the crew pushes the water out of the pothole. Then they cut a square around the hole. This creates a wall to fill with new blacktop. Next, the team dumps the asphalt into the hole and spreads the material evenly. Finally, the crew tamps the material. It’s only a temporary fix. The cold temperatures make it especially challenging.

“We’re out in the cold, the product is cold that we’re using to fill the hole with and the ground is frozen as well, so you don’t get a good bond between the two surfaces,” said Hines.

Potholes are bad news for drivers, but good for business at J & W Auto Repair. Business is up 20 percent over the same period last year.

“The automotive season is usually slow in the winter. This year we have not been slow,” said Brian Youngblood, owner of J & W Auto Repair.

Potholes could cause anywhere from $200 to $600 in damages to cars, especially tires.

“A sudden drop when the tire hits the pothole could damage the struts, the suspension, components. That usually happens right away. The tire can, it bend the steel belts inside and over time can cause what’s called a shifted belt and cause the tire to wobble and shimmy and that’s very dangerous,” said Youngblood.

Back in Belmar, the Public Works crew will continue to make temporary fixes throughout the winter until they complete permanent repairs this spring.