News From Terre Haute, Indiana

January 14, 2014

Freeze, thaw cycle hard on streets

Howard Greninger
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Instead of clearing piles of snow, Terre Haute and Vigo County highway officials are now switching to a different hazard — potholes — as a result of last week’s winter blast.

Potholes form as water and snow fils small cracks in the asphalt road surface. In frigid temperatures, the freezing water expands. When the water melts, it leaves a void in the road surface, making it vulnerable to “popping out” small or large sections of the roadway, said Dan Bennett, superintendent of the Vigo County Highway Department.

Repairing potholes is a normal cycle of maintenance on city and county roads, yet last week’s extreme temperature swings brought the onset of potholes early, said Brad Miller, transportation director for the city of Terre Haute.

“We’ve had extreme temperatures both ways. We have gone from 15 degrees below zero to almost 50 degrees, which makes a lot of expansion and contraction. And because of that, there will be a lot of potholes,” Miller said.

“And these things can just open up overnight,” he said.

Roadways in the county seem to be faring better than city streets, Bennett said. But that will likely switch in late spring.

“Right now there is a moderate [pothole problem] in the county,” he said. “It is not as bad as roads for the city and even the state. County roads will get hammered more so in the spring, when heavier traffic hits … such as farm equipment on some roads.

“We are seeing potholes, and we have road crews out patching now. A road may be fine one day when you drive over it, and then there is a big section gone the next day,” Bennett said.

Miller said repairing potholes will be the city’s top street maintenance priority this week.

Drivers, Miller said, can call “311” to report a pothole on a city street, or go to and go to a link to “311” and send an email. In the county, drivers can call the county highway department at 812-466-9635 to report a pothole in need of repair.

“We will get to the potholes as quick as we can,” Miller said. “We are working on them now and will keep doing that until we can get on top of them. But it will be a while because there sure are a lot of them and there are some big and bad ones, too,” he said.

Poplar Street, Ohio Street/Boulevard and Fruitridge Avenue are among some of the hardest impacted roads. Those roads are heavily traveled. Some, like Poplar Street, a designated truck route, have heavy vehicles driving on them, Miller said.

Freezing and thawing impacts older road surfaces first, Miller said. “A lot of the newly paved streets will not be affected,” he said.

“This happens every year, but with such extremes in temperatures that we have had, this is happening quicker,” Miller said of the incidence of potholes. “This is something that we knew would happen when the snow thawed. It didn’t take long for the phone calls to switch from complaints about the snow to complaints about potholes.”

City crews still have to finish a city leaf collection, Miller said, something that can’t be done when ice and snow are on roads, and something that is taking a back seat to pothole repair.

“As long as there is no new snow, we will be fixing potholes for the next few days because we don’t want people damaging their cars,” Miller said.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or