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Pothole Problem: Worst Season Yet For Minn.?

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(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) – Lessening the pain of Minnesota’s pothole season costs money, and given the state’s shrinking resources, this year could be the worst yet for potholes.

This year’s particularly rough pothole season can be attributed to more groundwater below and around the roads, Minnesota Public Radio reports. This means that when the snow melts during the day, it seeps into the sub grade and freezes at night — causing even more cracks than before.

With that kind of science at work on the state’s already aging road system, drivers should prepare for a bumpy ride.

A number of possible solutions have been offered to alleviate the problem, but each comes with a list of pros and cons — and each has a price tag.

Some say the ticket is to come up with a better asphalt formula. But that takes research, and research costs money.

Filling the holes with asphalt, as pothole crews are out doing now, is only a temporary solution. The cracks reappear each spring — a result of the freeze, thaw and continuous barrage of traffic on the roads.

A long-term fix would be to build better roads, University of Minnesota civil engineering professor David Levinson said.

“We haven’t invented anything that will eliminate potholes, but we can certainly reduce their number if we build roads better,” he said.

But that’s unlikely to happen, Levinson said, as it would cost nearly 25 percent more to build stronger county highways.

Some people have suggested raising roadway taxes, especially for heavy truck owners whose rigs do more damage than small cars.

“An eighteen-wheeler can do 1,600 times as much damage to (the) road as a single passenger car would do over the same stretch,” Levinson said.

Larger vehicles could also be affixed with more tires or axles to even out the weight, although that would be expensive and would use more energy due to the added friction.

If snowplows raised their blades an inch or so, it would prevent them from damaging the pavement as they rumble through. That could bring complaints from drivers, however, who tend to prefer snow-free roadways that allow them to drive fast.

A number of road experts, including civil engineer Dave Sonnenberg, told MPR that the state is billions of dollars behind when it comes to road maintenance. If the state had kept up the pace, the pothole season wouldn’t be so bad.

“We’ve done a very thorough job of neglecting our pavement for the last 25 years,” Sonnenberg said.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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