Minnesota’s pothole problem is expanding, expert confirms

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Potholes don’t just appear to be more prevalent this year, a civil engineering expert at the University of Minnesota Duluth confirmed they actually are, and like many things Minnesota, the weather gets a big portion of the blame.

Richard Sales showed 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS the condition of his son, Tyler’s tire after the car hit a pothole on the University of Minnesota campus.

“It broke the bead, which is this guy right here, and it put a hole in the side of his tire,” Sales said, pointing to the damage.

He and his son were stopped in the snow Saturday at Bobby and Steve’s Auto World in Minneapolis. Sales drove from Lakeville to help change the flat tire.

“He called me, so I just came to rescue him,” he said. “It’s what dads do.”

Sales went on to say it’s happened to him a couple of times before — “And this year it’s worse,” he concluded.

That was more than a hunch from one car savvy dad, it’s the truth. The pothole problem in Minnesota is growing, confirmed Manik Barman, an associate professor of civil engineering at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

Like many inconveniences this winter, Barman blames the weather.

“I will blame this heavy, more snow, more snow melting,” he said. “Pavement doesn’t like water.”

Rain and melted snow make their way into inevitable cracks in the asphalt, Barman explained. The problem occurs when that water freezes and expands. That expansion creates pressure, loosening and separating pieces of the road and as cars continue to drive over the weakened pavement, “that crack becomes a pothole,” Barman said.

Factor in a season where the freeze-thaw cycles keep coming and going, and the pothole problem keeps growing.

“It’s really hugely costly. This year there will be roads where they just cannot fix the potholes,” Barman continued. “They have to, you know, redo the road.”

“All those factors, I think should be considered now when we are selecting what type of road is best for a particular street or, you know, down the road,” he added, pun-intended.

Minnesota, including efforts by Barman and colleagues, is continuously researching how to improve which materials make up its roads based on conditions, like the weather, and the cost, Barman said.

There may come a day when city streets could be redone with something other than asphalt, he said. For example, interstates are more often made with concrete, Barman explained, which is less affected by water.

In the meantime, he said more money may need to be poured into maintenance at the local level as the experts expect winters like this to become more common.