Pothole Pawlenty's Precarious Patchwork

You may have noticed that this winter spring, we've had the largest outburst of pothole related news stories in living memory. Seemingly every news organization has devoted teams of reporters to covering the start of the 'pothole filling season' (something that happens every year).

It's gotten to the absurd point where you'd think that the opening of the Saint Paul Asphalt Plant was akin to the naming of the next Pope.

[Crowds of onlookers watch as a puff of white smoke comes out of the Saint Paul Asphalt Plant chimney.]

Of course, its hard to blame increasingly desperate news editors. The potholes this winter are cavernous, the worst that anyone can remember.

My mother got a flat tire when she hit one the other day on a Freeway on-ramp. And a good friend of mine got a flat tire when she hit a pothole on Saint Paul's Raymond Avenue a few weeks ago. She pulled into the nearest parking lot to fix her flat, and during the 10 minutes that she was there, two other cars pulled into the lot with flat tires from the same pothole. It's a good time to get into the suspension repair business.

We must ask ourselves, what's behind this rash of potholes and pothole-centered news coverage? It is a coincidence? Happenstance?

Potholes form because of the happy fact that water expands when it freezes. Each winter, when the freeze/thaw cycle begins, water works its way down into the layers of asphalt and gravel, breaking apart the materials underneath the roadway. It's an inevitable process that gets worse over time, as cracks grow and the foundation underneath the roadbed becomes increasingly unstable over time. It leads to all sorts of different forms of driving disintegration. The only solution, apart from the temporary patches of hot pothole infill, are to re-make, re-surface, or re-pave every road every 10 - 20 years.

[A scientist explains the nature of potholes.]

Needless to say, that kind of road maintenance is very expensive. And transportation budgets are running in the red at every level of government, from the Feds on down to the townships. Barring the impossible hike in the gas tax, there's little chance that roads will be improving anytime soon.

Pothole'd pavement is just the most visible example of what a 'don't tax the rich' policy does to basic government services. For every pothole you hit with your front wheel, someone in the state goes without necessary health care.

[This pothole is dedicated in honor of cuts to state health care for the poor.]

So, drivers of the Twin Cities, imagine a future filled with potholes. What might this look like?

At one level, I'm kind of pleased. Potholes are like inverse speed bumps, and will probably force cars to slow down or risk destroying their undercarriage. On the other hand, a friend of mine hit a pothole on his bike that practically destroyed his rear wheel.

[Spelunking is an excellent hobby and fun for the whole family.]


[Public Radio's latest riveting piece of investigative journalism.]


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Ari said...

The best (or at least most interesting) part of the potholes? The streetcars seem to be coming back. The best is where the trucks all turn at University and Vandalia, but the Dale/Como/Front intersection is down to brick, as is a stretch of 4th Avenue SE in Marcy Holmes.

And I'm sure other places. I wonder if they'll bother fixing University since it is going to go under the knife in a couple years anyway.