Spotlight: How to Fix a Pothole

2012-11-19_15-49-25_341When asphalt pavement surfaces begin to fail they generally wont attract an owners attention until they form a pothole. Potholes are the final stage of failure since once a pothole forms it will only get bigger. The size of pothole usually increases more rapidly once it has reached this stage because of the pounding at the vertical walls of the edges by vehicular traffic causes the pavement to break easily.

It is prudent therefore to try to make repairs to failed pavement surfaces before they reach the pothole stage. The liability alone should reinforce this concept. Potholes and uneven pavement surfaces can cause all types of accidents not only to pedestrians but to motorcyclists, and damage to vehicles. As a property owner you own the liability for maintaining your surfaces in a safe and reasonable condition.

Find the Root Causes

The causes for failed surfaces are varied and are worth noting:

  • Age of the surface.
  • Thickness of the surface.
  • Type of traffic.
  • Speed of traffic
  • Support strength of weight of vehicles
  • Thickness of asphalt
  • Thickness of stone base
  • Condition of subgrade
  • Drainage of surface
  • Drainage of subgrade
  • Planarity of surface

There may be others but they don’t come to mind right now. If you think of any leave me a comment and I will add them to the list.

Finding the root cause may also be a combination of the factors that I listed above. When we go out and survey a parking lot we try to consider what kind of activity is taking place in each of the areas of the parking lot. In some cases the problem may be due to the access path of a garbage truck that comes to unload the dumpster. In other cases a sprinkler system might be not working properly and draining water into the subgrade. Or perhaps the asphalt is cracked and water from rain events is leaching through to the subgrade. Putting all the factors together in different ways can create many scenarios.

2012-11-19_16-29-23_410Determine the RemedyOnce you have determined the root cause it is time to start thinking about the remedy, right? Well normally yes. Determining the remedy from a visual inspection does not always yield the best solution. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen failed repairs in parking lots where all the surfaces around it are in good condition. Why does this happen? Generally it happens because a contractor proposes a remedy that he knows will win the job. Given that he only has to guarantee the work for a year, some contractors will propose remedies that will meet that criteria and not much more. Sometimes, the contractor arrives and starts doing the repair and finds a condition that was unforeseen and the owner does not have the money in the budget to address the proper fix.

As the consumer how can you separate the chaff from the wheat? It is an age old question and one that does not have just one answer. References might be a way. Going and looking at the work they have done in the past might be another. It all starts with common sense though and not just going with the lowest bid. Look at the bids thoroughly and ask questions. Try to understand the contractors thinking and see whether his remedy fits the problem. The results can be dramatic especially when the repairs hold up in the long term.

Understand Your Long Term Goals

The health of your parking lot is not much different than the health of your body. What you do today will directly impact in a big way the viability of the parking lot in the long run. Parking lots will wear out. There is no doubt about that. However with proper maintenance the life expectancy of the parking lot can often double.

This is not always true however. In some cases, the parking lot was built to under perform from the get go and unless something is done about it the owner will suffer a torture of death by a thousand cuts. Just fixing a pothole is putting a band-aid on a problem that requires major surgery. When this happens it is critical to find a reputable contractor who will find the solution with the best price vs. performance ratio. Sometimes there is no substitute for experience. There are many other factors to consider here since your business will likely be impacted. Staging of the job, safety conditions, movement of pedestrian traffic, job scheduling are all factors that must be considered. Your contractor should be able to produce for you a plan that addresses all of these factors within a reasonable framework.

Wrapping up…

We have gone from potholes to complete parking lot replacements in a matter of a few paragraphs. Determining the remedy for a permanent fix gives you the best approach to the problem. Be prepared though. Potholes just might be just your first indicator of a more widespread problem. It still saves dollars to deal with the problem early.