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Why do potholes form?

Pennsylvania roads are notorious for their potholes. But what causes them? And why do they seem to be more prevalent in the spring? We found the answers.

PENNSYLVANIA, USA — Potholes are one of the biggest concerns for Pennsylvania drivers. 

Often occurring in spring, these potholes can puncture your tires, bend or even crack wheels. Just a minor impact with a pothole has the potential to knock your vehicle out of alignment!.

The formation of a pothole all begins with the freeze and thaw cycle. 

When temperatures tumble below freezing, water freezes and then expands. When temperatures rise, the water and ice melt, resulting in a crater under the road.   

Fritzi Schreffler of PennDOT says the freeze & thaw cycle is the first step in forming a pothole.  

“First, you need two things: water underneath the road and traffic on top of the road. Water weakens the pavement, and traffic kind of helps to push it down so it starts to crumble,” Schreffler explained. 

As this cycle repeats and drivers ride over the weakened roadways, a pit forms under the surface of the road, creating a pothole.  

Schreffler says that while there are temporary fixes for potholes that are used during this time of year called cold patches, PennDOT really has to wait for consistently warm weather for longer term solutions.  

“As the weather starts to fluctuate a lot, it's part of why, at PennDOT, we don’t start paving until April and finish in October because we worry about steady temperatures for the road,” Schreffler explained. 

Potholes can be reported on PennDOT’s website, but you should just be sure that you are submitting a pothole report on state roads rather than local or county roads.

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