The American South was hit harder in the winter of 2014 than is typical. While the upper Midwest shivered under sub-zero temperatures, the same cold air masses dipped further south to collide with warmer Gulf air, leading to snowfall in every state including parts of Florida.
In some respects, that can be even nastier to pavement than deep freezes. It’s when the temperatures fluctuate above and below freezing that the worst damage is done.
Atlanta famously tried to brush off predictions of snow on a Tuesday in January, only to find itself paralyzed by a two-inch snowfall that neither drivers nor road maintenance vehicles were equipped to maneuver. Raleigh, North Carolina had two winter storms between January and February and even South Carolina’s Upstate region endured the effects of the winter blast.
While the winter was shorter than in places like Chicago and New York, these conditions were sufficient to create potholes – and most states and municipalities now find they are over-budget in road maintenance as a result. A review of the known damage is as follows:
Arkansas – Arkansas Matters reported in March that wear and tear on state highways in combination with weather conditions led to at least two sizeable potholes on I-30 and an I-440 overpass. “These potholes are in formation over a period of time,” said Danny Straessle, Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department spokesperson. “It’s just a matter of which particular event triggers that pothole to make itself known.” In December, Highway 67/167 near Bald Knob had to be closed over a Saturday night to allow repairs (a temporary patch was used).
Georgia – Atlanta’s heavily reported woes with one to two inches of snow (viewed derisively by radio jocks and others in snow-bound cities further north) has not led to excessive pothole problems. A spokesperson for the city said in March that their two waves of winter storms cost Atlanta $13.5 million in cleanup efforts, but that a $137 million rainy day fund should be able to cover it. Statewide, the Georgia DOT is using its $228 million budget for routine maintenance work.
Kentucky – In Murray, road crews took to the somewhat unorthodox method of pothole repair – cutting out pavement surrounding the pothole, installing support material and using highway-grade concrete as filler. The winter’s toll on infrastructure also included heavily rutted dirt roads and washed out culverts that resulted from flooding caused by frozen ground (i.e., there was less natural absorption). In Warren County, the problems associated with potholes this winter was the patch material was not bonding to the frozen substructure.
North and South Carolina – The fact that North Carolina spent $62 million on plowing and road salt this winter says a lot about how it will have trouble fixing potholes: the budget was only $40 million. State transportation officials are looking at reducing grass cutting along highways this summer to make up the shortfall. In South Carolina, Upstate road crews received 70 damage claims from motorists in February. The South Carolina DOT has asked the state legislature for $1.5 billion to upgrade roads throughout the state – yet to be granted – which one state senator says would reduce the number of claims the state pays out. He says the cost of claims has risen by a factor of three in just a few years.
Tennessee – While considered a southern state, there were two inches of snow during the early January snow storm that blanketed much of the eastern half of the U.S. (the total snow accumulation the previous winter was 1.3 inches). Consequently, in places such as Jackson claims for pothole damage to vehicles are up. A pothole repair/repave effort in the Great Smokey Mountains National Park required lane closures in mid-April in preparation for summertime tourism traffic.
Virginia – The Virginia DOT is scratching to find the $100 million it went over its $157 million budget for road maintenance, and it’s not just to fix the holes in roads around the congested DC suburbs. In the center of the state, Henrico County had fixed 3,200 potholes by late March and was paying out about $600 per motorist claim for damages. In the capital, Richmond, city leaders are noting that their roads are aging and that winter was no help. Damage claims there in 2013 and 2014 were $15,400, but that amount is greater than what Virginia shells out for its roads throughout the state.
West Virginia – State officials with the West Virginia Division of Highways are reporting the worst pothole season in years. The DOH are shifting funds away from other projects to make $15 million available for repair work – including the rental of road grinders for wholesale repaving of some very troubled stretches, such as route 88 outside of Mozart. Potholes could not be fixed prior to April as most plants didn’t open until them to provide “hot mix,” which is generally used for longer-term repairs.