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Noticed many more potholes after a snowstorm here in NYC... why?

My guess is that most of the potholes are caused by snow removal vehicles… one often hears the snow plows crash into the road (or at least scraping,) and the tire chains on trucks and buses are probably destroying the pavement as well. It’s all par for the course, I guess. However, in NYC ever since the mayor got criticized a few years back about not doing enoguh snow removal, the snow plow crew has been doing too much these last few years. They’ve been over-salting the roads.

My guess, it’s the freeze/thaw cycles that cause the potholes, once they get started the plows don’t help, I’m sure.


I agree with @texases . . . he’s right on the money

The snow plows have absolutely nothing to do with actually creating potholes

If it’s any consolation . . . I live in Los Angeles and our roads are also a f . . . . . g joke

We don’t have snow and ice here, so there are other reasons for our road conditions

Water gets under the road through cracks, freezes, expands, and causes bumps, my guess.

@Barkeydog is right. In sub freezing areas. Look at the heavy fall rains before the frost sets in. The more rain, the deeper the frost. The worse the road base, the worse the drainage. Poor drainage around pavement level too. If there are a lot of plugged drains after a snow storm, melting snow seeps into the pavement which breaks it up during the next freeze. Usually, low infrastructure budgets are responsible for poor road base prep and clogged drains, at least in our neck of the woods. This makes for pot holes galor when the conditions are right. Snow plowing can damage the pavement and allow water seepage but usually only if the cracks are already there. Then, just about anything contributes to more damage.

Without frost, it’s still poor road base prep and poor drainage allowing water to settle under the road. You would be surprised how much water moves under our roads without proper drainage creating unstable base. When we build roads, the first thing we have to do is plan for drainage. The protection of a road extends well past the roads edge. The ditches, culverts, proper crowning and lastly a base of really good gravel that allows for water to migrate away from the road that does seep in before any frost can do damage. All that costs lots of money initially and in times when low bids wins, it’s not always possible to do the right thing. But, it saves more money and aggravation over time.

Just watch a section of interstate go in and look at all the gravel, crushed rock for a proper base and ditching and erosion control that goes on well beyound the road and the size of the culverts. Often, in many areas during bad times, only the Feds can afford to build roads right and when everyone’s roads get bad at once, it’s often because of cuts in infrastructure monies from the fed going to states for proper state and local road construction. Wealthier states or states from drier climates can be a little less dependent on these monies, but poor roads eventually hurt everyone’s economy and quality of life.
It’s not rocket science…but it does cost money to do it right; but it saves lots of money over repair year after year.

I concur. I wouldn’t say the plows have nothing at all to do with it. But the real cause is the freeze thaw that goes on. The plows can accelerate some damage, but they don’t “cause” it.

The real cause is water ! Poor drainage because of poor road construction and maintenance are the cause of water remaining under the road. The freeze and thaw is just a symptom of a bigger problem, water remaining under the road and not drained away.

@dagosa…mmmmm ok, and that would explain why pothole issues get much worse after a lot of winter weather?

Water under the road beds = bad.
Water under the road beds + freezing and thawing = a lot worse. I would think that freeze/thaw implies water.

@cig “the real cause is the freeze thaw that goes on” this is what you said and I just responded as I did and did not intend to disagree…just expand on it.

My only point is that potholes will eventually ocur even without freezing due to the unstable base that occurs with water and poor drainage. In non freezing areas, it still happens but over a longer time. Just hoping the road doesn’t freeze or accepting potholes when it does because we think it is the cause, doesn’t prevent potholes. We have to identify the real cause which is the root to the water being there. To me the real “cause” …is poor drainage of the water.

In nonfreezing areas one gets sinkholes. Where water under the macadam freezes and lifts the pavement, one gets potholes. Granted, a hole is a hole is a hole, but potholes don’t swallow large vehicles.

I think there are two reasons they seem worse this year.

  1. the deep freezes coming down from Canada and staying long enough to suck more heat out of the pavement that usual, driving the freeze level down further into the base, and

  2. road maintenance budget cutbacks. Roads that are overdue to be ripped to the base and rebuilt have been simply been patched these past years due to low highway budgets.

Those are my theories, and I’m stickim’ to 'em!

Climate change. ? ;=()

Do you REALLY want to go there???

Yep freeze thaw will do it every time. It thaws and water gets in all the cracks, then freezes and the water expansion pops the asphalt out. Its worse in areas like New York where it is not consistently below freezing. Don’t they just use garbage trucks for the plows anyway so they’ll be running around whether plowing or not?

Hmmmm, only if it gets a rise out of some one.

In reality, aggressive snow removal as a contributing factor is NOT that far removed. Road salt does it’s share of pavement damage, snow from the plow blocking drains, constant plowing does over time scrape down the crown of a road which all roads need and lastly, lifting up a little pavement crack does mean water intrusion later. In some cases, it’s the old idea that like using too much salt brine on our roads, do you want accidents now, just to save rust and road repair later ? Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. With all snow removal, it’s the nature of the beast. Overly agressive removal can undo a lot of good work on a road. @Bing could be on to something too if a vehicle ill suited for plowing is used.

And, this is a big one; with all those infrastructure systems going on under NYC roads, including conduits for just about everything and layers of sub street systems including subways, I don’t wonder there is a little movement that helps break up pavement and/or keeps water from draining. If at some point, you see puddling on a road for any xtended time, I would think it be more prone to pot holes.

Water and plows both have a huge impact on potholes.

Water first will get in the cracks and seep under the road…then when it freezes - the water expands and lifts the road up…Then the plow comes along and tears off the newly raised section of road. We had a section of this road near us that had half a lane raised over a foot.

Mike is correct.
Even though the classic freeze/thaw effect is the basis for the formation of winter potholes, the action of a steel plow blade hitting even a slightly raised section of pavement has the effect of ripping that slightly raised piece of pavement clear off the surface, frequently taking a large piece of the surrounding pavement with it in the process.

And, you also have to consider that, in an urban environment, there are many more manholes and access plates for utilities than there are in more suburban or rural environments. Each one of those openings in the pavement allows moisture to seep into the pavement, and if you spend any time in NYC or other urban environments, you will see that many of the potholes are adjacent to the manholes/access plates.

We have not had a lot of the freeze-thaw cycles here (SE WI)- we have had a lot of the freeze and stay frozen. And the potholes are there, but what is unusual- to my memory- is the heaving. Unannounced speed bumps if you will. And I don’t imagine they will fix themselves if we ever get spring.

Potholes in NYC? Based my experience with NYC streets I thought you guys drove around on “temporary” steel plates all the time.

Seriously though, the deep freezing/thawing cycles we have had are most likely the cause. Water gets into the pavement layers, freezes, and the surface becomes loose. Then the plow comes along and scrapes away any loose material, including the street surface. It really would not surprise me that in NYC (or any major metropolitan area) that most of the streets are pretty much an agglomeration of patches. These would be much more susceptible to potholing due to all the joints between sections of pavement.

What a we don’t get is that water will travel “uphill” if it is allowed to sit. Even if the road bed is higher then the water puddling in a ditch or off to the side it will migrate to areas of lower concentration. Besides, in NYC, all the roads are in a confined space and drainage has to be manufactured and maintained. That can’t always be done with rush hour traffic and snow removal clogging drains for days on end. Just saying “freeze thaw” contributes to potholes is absolutly true, but not talking about drainage as the root cause is like saying a knife killed Nicolel and Ron and not getting at the real cause, OJ. So, you don’t just fix potholes, you need to address the drainage problem as well.

The freeze/thaw cycles are what wreck the roads, but heavy plows scraping them surely don’t help things. Once the pavement is crumbling and the plows go over, they sometimes rip chunks out of it, exposing the actual hole–I have seen this happen.

With the winter we’ve had here, the most severe in over a decade, it looks like most of the city I live in could use repaving at this point. Roads that were nearly perfect last summer are like a donkey track in a 3rd world country. The ones that don’t have potholes have huge frost heaves that make you feel like you’re on a roller coaster.