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The Pothole Facts

Potholes are the lowly annoyance that in fact cause billions of dollars in vehicle damages and a large portion of highway deaths. Here is a run-down of pothole facts, news and views.

According to the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission of the U.S. Congress, the annual investment required by all levels of government to simply MAINTAIN the nation’s highways, roads, and bridges is now estimated to be $185 billion per year for the next 50 years. Today, the nation annually invests about $68 billion.

The U.S. Congress passed in a rare bipartisan effort (late 2015) the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015, which provides $233 billion for federal highway maintenance over five years. That’s $46 billion per year.

Roads are an integral part of our daily lives

  • 24 million children (one half) of our nation’s k-12 school population ride on 450,000 school buses 180 days per year.
  • 50,000 ambulances make 60 million trips a year.
  • Trucks carry 32 million tons of goods across the roads every day,
  • 240 million registered vehicles travel 2.9 trillion miles annually.
  • While potholes can cause hundreds and even thousands of dollars in damage to vehicles, 63% of Americans do not have the cash on hand to pay for those repairs.

The Pothole Facts

  • Potholes are formed by water, freezing and freeze-thaw cycles, excessive heat, wear and tear – and time.
  • The areas most prone to pothole development are where drainage is poor (particularly where roads dip, such as the trough under viaducts), where vehicular traffic is greatest – especially heavy vehicle traffic – and where poor maintenance allows small fissures to deteriorate.
  • The vast majority of America’s highways were built in the 1950s through the 1970s. Most were built to last 50 years. With time, all the factors that compromise pavement add up. By the same token, some roads have lasted much longer than planned in part due to good maintenance.
  • Potholes are not limited to cities in the Snowbelt. According to TRIP*, the cities with the worst road conditions in the U.S. (population 500,000 or greater) are as follows:
City Percent of roads ranked as “poor”
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana 64%
San Francisco-Oakland 60%
San Jose 56%
San Diego 55%
Tucson 53%
New York City-New Jersey 51%
Bridgeport-Stamford 51%
Milwaukee 48%
New Orleans 47%
Oklahoma City 47%
Tulsa 46%
Seattle 45%
Honolulu 43%
Sacramento 43%
Concord, CA 42%
New Haven 42%
Riverside–San Bernardino 39%
Springfield, MA 39%
Boston 39%
Hartford 38%


*Source: Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) 2011 annual survey of state transportation officials, based on level of smoothness of pavement surfaces, as reported by TRIP, a national transportation research group (“Bumpy Roads Ahead: America’s Roughest Rides and Strategies to Make Our Roads Smoother,” 2013)

Pothole Economics – Funding and Costs

  • $2.7 trillion: That’s how much the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) believes it would cost to fix crumbling highway and bridge infrastructure in the U.S.
  • The average annual cost for vehicle repairs due to rough pavement for individual motorists is $377 – which varies by market. Repairs typically involve tires, shock absorbers, suspension systems, struts, rims, wheel alignment and catalytic converters.
  • The cost of bad roads to American business between now and 2022 is estimated to be $240 billion, according to the ASCE.
  • Failure to spend $1 in road repair typically results in $7 of cost five years later. Whole road rebuilding costs 14 times as much as repairs.
  • The U.S. Chamber of Commerce listed the rebuilding of America’s infrastructure as one of their five top priorities in 2012.
  • The Federal gas tax currently stands at 18.4 cents per gallon, set in 1993. This money is put into the federal Highway Trust Fund, but because the tax was not indexed to inflation its purchasing power has diminished by 48 percent since 1990. States and municipalities add their own gas taxes to cover building and maintenance costs.
  • Improved fuel economies of all types of vehicles means that less gas tax is collected even while miles driven by vehicles rise. Alternative funding methods are under consideration such as a vehicle miles traveled (VMT) system.
  • In some areas, road deterioration is so great and repairs unaffordable that they are being returned to gravel.
  • Only about one-third of voter referenda that call for an increase in taxes are passed. Of those that do pass, they are more likely to support funding for education than infrastructure. Failed funding votes to illustrate this were in Missouri in 2014 and Michigan in 2015.

Pothole Dangers

  • Of approximately 33,000 traffic fatalities each year, one-third involve poor road conditions.
  • 27 percent of major urban roads (interstates, freeways and other arterial routes) are deemed substandard and provide unacceptably rough rides for motorists. Only 31 percent of roads are deemed to be in good condition (source: TRIP, 2013).
  • Vehicular traffic overall is expected to increase by 25% by the year 2030. Large commercial vehicle traffic is projected to increase over that time by 64 percent.
  • The grave danger that potholes present to bicyclists can also be costly to municipalities that fail to fix hazardous potholes and face multi-million dollar lawsuits as a result.

Pothole Solutions

  • The methods and materials used to build and maintain roads – including pothole repairs – are evolving and varied. What works in warmer climates is different from the four-season regions.
  • In northern climates, most wintertime pothole repairs are temporary, with permanent fixes happening in warmer, drier times of year. Some types of asphalt can allow permanent repairs in cold, wet conditions.
  • Citizens are taking action and getting involved in pothole reporting through phone apps.

Pothole Funnies

  • Television comedian John Oliver entertains with a look at how infrastructure lacks sex appeal.
  • The Daily Pothole takes a humorous approach to tracking the potholes of New York City.
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