Feb. 18, 2010

Just another bump in the road

by Paula Van Brocklin

Potholes of all shapes and sizes. Bulging asphalt. Endless bumps that test your patience and your vehicle's shocks. What's up with the rough roads both on and off campus? Winter, of course.

Just as this record-setting winter has taken a toll on even the hardiest Iowans, it also has battered campus roads.

Angie Solberg, landscape architect with facilities planning and management, said this winter's string of sub-zero temperatures and snowstorms have left their mark on campus roads in the form of potholes and heaving pavement.

According to the Iowa Department of Transportation, the problem starts when moisture seeps through cracks and crevices in the pavement. As the subsurface freezes, the moisture expands, causing the pavement to bulge, heave and break. Snowplow blades and traffic further damage the elevated pavement, creating a pothole.

This winter has shown no mercy to any part of campus; the damage is everywhere.

"The pothole problem is pretty widespread, but the older roads with more cracks are more susceptible to the freeze-thaw problem that creates most of the potholes," Solberg said.

The fix

FPM's campus services is placing a cold patch (a black, rocky substance similar to asphalt) in the potholes for a quick fix.

"Unfortunately, this is only a temporary solution since moisture penetrates the repair and pops the material loose," Solberg said.

Once warm spring temperatures return, short-term repairs with longer-lasting materials will commence. Campus services will handle crack sealing, and outside contractors will take on more extensive repairs, like hot patching (similar to cold patching, but more permanent) or concrete replacement. Warm temperatures also will remedy the heaving problems naturally by allowing the pavement to settle back into place.


Funding for ISU's road repairs comes from the State Parks and Institutional Roads program (P/IR), administered by the Iowa DOT. The program is funded as a percentage of the state's Road Use Tax Fund and is allocated by the state Board of Regents each year.

With the number of roads that need repairs rising and the budget dwindling from extensive snow removal costs, the worst potholes, bumps and cracks will be the priority.

"We probably won't be able to get to all of the areas with problems," Solberg said. "We're going to do as much as we can with the available funds."

The best long-term fix? Replace aging roads as funds become available. It could be another bumpy winter next year.