Drivers warned as pothole season returns to Northwest Colorado
Pothole damage costs U.S. drivers $3 billion annually
Several craters and new bodies of water have begun appearing on roadways in Northwest Colorado.
It’s officially pothole season — a time between winter and mud season when the freeze-thaw cycle resulting from warm days and cold nights causes expansion of cracks and soil heaving, resulting in damaged pavement and rockslides.
“It tends to be a problem at this time of year and times after a lot of moisture,” said Colorado Department of Transportation spokesman Bob Wilson.
This year has already been particularly bad, as the snowy winter resulted in more moisture.
“It’s caused by the expansion and contraction of ground water under the pavement. The freeze-thaw weakens the pavement, and the pavement breaks when vehicles drive over it,” he said.
The problem is not as prevalent in the fall.
“Roads tend to be a lot more weakened after a long hard winter,” Wilson said.
Navigating potholes, some hidden beneath puddles, can be hazardous to vehicles and pocketbooks.
Every year, the American Automobile Association responds to more than four million calls for flat-tire assistance, many the result of damage caused by potholes.
American drivers reportedly pay $300 on average — and in some cases, in excess of $1,000 — to repair pothole-related vehicle damage. All told, AAA estimates pothole damage costs U.S. drivers $3 billion annually.
“Potholes don’t just leave you shaken — they’re a serious safety hazard that often lead to costly repair bills,” said AAA Colorado spokesman Skyler McKinley.
While drivers can file a claim if they want, the liability for damage doesn’t fall to the state.
“If created by construction, claims can be filed on a particular project, but if you are talking about the normal roadway hazards that exist, that’s not something generally covered,” Wilson said, adding that potholes are considered “a normal hazard of driving.”
Mitigating the problem
Reducing hazards on highways throughout Craig and Moffat County are crews overseen by Senior Supervisor Todd Weber.
“These crews travel the highways and are able to monitor where potholes are,” Wilson said.
Crews also rely on calls from the general public.
“As soon as we know, we get a crew out there as soon as we can. Sometimes, they get pulled in other directions; their first priority is road safety …” Wilson said.
He expects pothole repairs across Colorado over the next few days as weather conditions permit.
Either a cold mix asphalt is used as a temporary fix, or, on warm days, a hot mix is used.
“They remove the moisture, clean out the hole, smooth it out, fill it in with hot or cold mix, steam, and roll it,” Wilson said.
Crews of three perform the mobile operations, and lane closures are generally brief.
Two people work on the road, and a third drives an attenuator truck with a “big pad and spring … capable of absorbing the impact of a crash if it hits the back of the truck,” Wilson said. “Anytime you are working in moving traffic, it can be a hazard.”
“We always ask people to slow down. The mobile work zones are well-marked. We also say not to speed, stay alert, watch for workers, and drive with caution. Don’t use mobile devices or play with the radio …” Wilson said.
Slowing down helps drivers avoid potholes altogether or reduce the damage when one is hit.
“Hitting a pothole at higher speeds greatly increases the chance of damage to tires, wheels, and suspension components,” AAA wrote in a news release.
To avoid costly pothole damage, drivers should make a point of checking the road ahead for potholes.
Beware of puddles that can disguise deep potholes and “treat them as though they may be hiding potholes,” AAA advised.
Before swerving to avoid a pothole, check surrounding traffic to ensure this won’t cause a collision or endanger others, Wilson said.
“An alert driver may have time to avoid potholes, so it’s important to stay focused on the road and not any distractions inside or outside the vehicle,” added experts at AAA.
After running into a pothole drivers should monitor their vehicles for possible damage.
“Sometimes, your car can hit a pothole and survive; sometimes, you get unlucky and have some damage. Determining how your vehicle has reacted is just a matter of monitoring how your vehicle handles,” Wilson said.
If it pulls to the left or right, it might be time to have the vehicle’s wheel alignment checked by a technician.
A hard pothole impact can dislodge wheel weights, damage a tire or wheel, and bend or even break suspension components.
“It’s important to have a technician inspect the vehicle if any new or unusual noises or vibrations appear,” according to AAA.
Car owners may also want to carry a spare tire. New car drivers should check for a spare tire, as many no longer come equipped with one. AAA advised that tire inflator kits might not be adequate in helping motorists to safety and the vehicle to a garage without costly towing bills.
Drivers may also want to inspect tires for inflation or severe wear, as improperly inflated or worn tires are more likely to suffer damage or allow the wheel or suspension to be damaged when hitting a pothole. When checking tire pressures, AAA recommends inflating to the manufacturer’s recommended levels, which can be found in the owner’s manual or on a sticker on the driver’s doorjamb.
“Hitting a large pothole usually results in the need for wheel alignment and possible steering linkage damage, causing a big hit to motorists’ wallets. If you’ve hit a large pothole, call your automotive technician as soon as possible to prevent further damage,” AAA advised.
To report potholes in Northwest Colorado call the CDOT customer service hotline at 970-243-2368.
Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.