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Maintenance Monday: Pennsylvania's pothole problem

May 15, 2017 03:00 PM
By: Larissa Newton

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​Everyone hates potholes. Unfortunately, they are a fact of life in Pennsylvania, thanks to our severe freeze/thaw cycle.


How potholes form

how potholes form infographic

What exactly do we mean when we say freeze/thaw cycle? Well, temperatures in Pennsylvania can fluctuate between freezing and mild daily during the winter months. After precipitation occurs, the water seeps into the soil below the roadway surface. When it gets colder, the precipitation freezes and the ground expands, pushing the pavement up. Then, the weather warms and the precipitation melts, leaving a gap between the pavement and ground below it. When a vehicle drives over the cavity, the pavement surface cracks, falls into the hollow space, and creates a pothole.

So, winters with a lot of precipitation (not necessarily just snow) and fluctuations in temperature often result in more potholes. Sounds like a typical Pennsylvania winter, right?


Fixing those potholes

In 2016, PennDOT invested $35.2 million for pothole repairs, using nearly 53,000 tons of asphalt. And PennDOT maintains the same number miles of roads as New York, New Jersey, and New England combined!

PennDOT can only fix potholes if we know about them. That is why we encourage motorists to report potholes on state-owned roadways by calling 1-800-FIX-ROAD or visiting When reporting a pothole, please be as specific as possible. If you can, note the county, municipality, street name, and/or route number. Descriptions of familiar landmarks that could help PennDOT locate the problem area are also encouraged.

During the winter, crews will make road repairs when possible — meaning when the weather permits. Because of the temperature, pothole repairs will only be temporary, using a mixture called cold patch. Cold patch is asphalt mixed with soap, water, and fine stones. The soap and water allow the material to remain flexible so crews can work with it. After the soap and water evaporate, the material becomes hard.

In the spring, the state's asphalt plants open and warm mix becomes available for more permanent repairs. Warm mix is a mixture of pure asphalt and fine stone heated to about 250-265 degrees Fahrenheit. The pothole is cut square, cleaned, and then treated with a tack-coat of asphalt that acts as glue. After the tack-coat application, the hot mix is placed into the pothole and compacted using a roller or other device.

Learn more about how PennDOT patches potholes and our other maintenance activities with our Maintenance First cards. Report potholes and other roadway concerns by calling 1-800-FIX-ROAD or by visiting

Follow PennDOT on social media — Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram​.

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