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Pothole patching creating better roadways

3/29/2021 3:55:33 PM

By McCall Macomber

Ramez Hajj
Ramez Hajj

Potholes are more than just minor annoyances — they’re also costly ones, with Illinois Department of Transportation putting more than $25 million a year into patching them.

Illinois Center for Transportation and IDOT are trying to reduce this in their joint project, “R27-SP44: Current and Future Best Practices for Pothole Repair in Illinois.”

Ramez Hajj, assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Illinois, leads the effort along with Laura Shanley, IDOT’s maintenance support engineer.

The two sought to investigate optimized pothole patching materials, equipment and techniques.

Their goal?

Improve pothole performance while causing less disruption to the public and reducing the potential for vehicle damage.

“Potholes are one of the most significant issues with our roads,” Hajj said. “There’s a lot of different approaches to filling them and some of them take a lot longer than others and some of them cost more than others.”

Key to the project is their interviews with representatives from IDOT’s nine districts to identify their experiences with pothole patching.

Those discussions sparked conversations between districts and even within districts, as the team discovered that the methods varied not only by region, but also by yard.

“The biggest success of the study was utilizing the district interviews with operations staff to really understand what was occurring around the state,” Shanley said. “When we see that other people are doing things differently, then that’s what opens us up to improvement and change.”

“We’ve got some yards that are doing some really, really higher quality work that may be able to share with some of the other yards that may not be aware of or follow those practices,” she added.

The team was able to provide IDOT with recommendations for pothole patching, including the use of hot-mix asphalt to provide longer service life, when possible.

“What we found pretty consistently across the board is there’s a whole lot of techniques that are super quick, but generally don’t seem to work really well and cause people to have to go out again and again to the field and try to repair that pothole,” Hajj said. “So, we definitely recommend trying to look at some of those more permanent types of repairs.”

The team was also able to recommend changes to IDOT’s newer asset management program to help them better keep track of pothole-repair expenditures.

All in all, the team was grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with ICT.

“This opportunity has given us the ability to learn about other states’ practices and also bring the districts together to solve problems and make improvements for IDOT that can be very beneficial,” Shanley said. “The study was a first step to figure out what we’re doing and what needs to be done to make positive progress forward.”