Here’s why potholes form — and why you should avoid them

Click to play video: 'Warmer weather bring potholes to Maritime streets' Warmer weather bring potholes to Maritime streets
WATCH: The inevitabilities of life include death, taxes, and potholes in the spring. While it’s still winter for a few more weeks, streets across New Brunswick and Nova Scotia seem to be getting into the season early – Feb 11, 2022

There’s a lot of uncertainty in life but of one thing you can be certain: when the weather warms up, potholes appear.

Though the calendar says it’s still winter for a few more weeks, fluctuating temperatures mean roadways across the Maritimes are already getting into the spirit of spring — something Saint John resident Ashely Penhollow learned the hard way Thursday night.

That’s when, on her way to pick her daughter up from work, she met with a particularly nasty one on Westmorland Road.

“All the sudden, bam,” she says.

“I felt that one. My whole teeth just clenched. I hit ‘er good.”

Read more: Saint John man says SkipTheDishes driver caused thousands in damage after hit and run

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The result was a flat tire on the passenger side of her vehicle.

Lucky for her, her tires are still under warranty.

Other unsuspecting drivers find their cars in need of expensive fixes.

“Potholes are really good at doing damage,” says Steve Olmstead, Director of Public and Government Affairs for CAA Atlantic.

“Sometimes it’s pretty obvious — a flat tire or something to your hub — but some of those damages can also show up a little later.”

Olmstead recommends checking over your car once a week to look for any damage.

He says CAA doesn’t tally each pothole-related call, but said there have been many across the region lately.

Your best bet? Avoid them.

“Slow down,” Olmstead says.

“That gives you more time to see potholes coming at you and take action to avoid hitting them in the first place.”

A spokesperson for the City of Saint John says crews are making the rounds to patch potholes as best as possible.

“Due to the quantity and severity of winter storms so far this year,” writes Communications Officer Nathalie Logan, “City crews have been focused on snow clearing and removal, which impacts the ability to also allocate resources to pothole repair.”

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She says the process of repair begins with residents reporting the holes.

Where do potholes come from?

Xiomara Sanchez is an assistant professor of civil engineering at the University of New Brunswick — and she knows a lot about pavement.

She says potholes are one of the trade-offs we have to make for accessible, cheaply-maintained roads.

“Potholes are not exclusive to New Brunswick, they’re everywhere,” she says.

Read more: Patching a pothole yourself? Officials warn Canadians to think twice before picking up the shovel (2019)

She explains that fluctuating temperatures — as seen recently — mean snow and ice melt into water, fill cracks in the road and seep into the soil beneath the asphalt.

When the temperature dips that melt freezes again and expands, pushing the asphalt around to get kicked up by passing cars and leaving depressions in the surface of our streets.

“It’s an incremental process,” Sanchez says.

“It’s like a snowball, something that starts small but it gets bigger and bigger and bigger. It’s a process you can’t really stop from occurring.”

She also says, coincidentally, the conditions optimal for pothole production are not equally as favourable for repair work — meaning there are a lot more patch jobs than permanent fixes in place until things dry up.

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“It’s one of the things that bloom in the spring, but it’s the kind of bloom that you want to see,” Sanchez says.

Click to play video: 'How to protect your vehicle from potholes' How to protect your vehicle from potholes
How to protect your vehicle from potholes – Mar 12, 2020


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