Annual battle against potholes begins

Alex Doty • Feb 21, 2018 at 10:00 AM

Like clockwork, the fluctuating temperatures, melting snow and heavy rains are beginning to take their toll on area roads in the form of potholes.

Tuesday was a very busy day for the Ottawa County Road Commission in terms of calls related to potholes, according to commission spokesman Zach Russell.

Some of the major highways in the county, such as U.S. 31 and I-196, are starting to show some “major potholes,” he said.

“We want people to know we’ve been out there trying to get them fixed,” Russell said. “We’ve got as many people out there filling potholes as we can.”

Russell said the wet conditions add a challenge to the repair job, as the pothole repair material has trouble sticking.

“As it warms up and gets dry, we will be able to get them fixed a little better,” he explained.

Periods of freeze and thaw during the late winter and early spring make the perfect pothole recipe. The process begins when water permeates the pavement surface, sometimes through cracks. This water saturates the road base and ground below the road pavement.

When we have a freeze, the water expands — what is known as a “frost heave.” Then, when we have a thaw, the water retracts, leaving a pocket of air underneath the pavement. This can cause the weakened pavement to crumble under the weight of cars and trucks driving over it.

Potholes can be reported to the Road Commission using the online request form at www.ottawacorc.com/contact/service-requests/ or by calling the main office at 616-842-5400.

Russell said the Road Commission has been monitoring conditions of water over roadways, and advises drivers to avoid areas that are barricaded or covered with water.

Grand Haven Department of Public Works officials also noted that potholes have been staking their claim on city streets.

“We’re starting to see them already, and we had a crew out last week patching potholes,” Public Works Director Derek Gajdos said.

Gajdos called pothole patching a regular part of the city’s winter maintenance cycle, which also includes plowing snow after a snowfall and maintaining areas along the road, such as storm drains, to ensure proper drainage of rain and melting snow.

“We were out in full force today, making sure our storm drains are properly flowing,” Gajdos said Tuesday.

Gajdos noted that sand and other debris can block storm drains in the winter, as can snow piles along the road.

“Sometimes, the snow piles will block those and ice will form,” he said, noting that this can create a barrier leading to flooding during snow melt and heavy rainfall, such as what is being seen this week.

The weather warm-up has resulted in both the Ottawa County Road Commission and Michigan Department of Transportation enacting annual spring weight restrictions to protect roads.

The MDOT weight restrictions went into effect at 6 a.m. Monday on all state trunkline highways from the Michigan/Indiana and Michigan/Ohio state lines north to and including M-46 in Muskegon County at the U.S. 31 Business Route intersection in Muskegon, east to U.S. 131, north to M-46, then continuing east on M-46 to Port Sanilac, ending at the M-25 intersection. 

MDOT determines when weight restrictions begin each spring by measuring frost depths along state highways, observing road conditions and monitoring weather forecasts. Weight restrictions remain in effect until the frost line is deep enough to allow moisture to escape and the roadbeds regain stability.


The Ottawa County Road Commission also implemented its own seasonal speed and weight restrictions at 6 a.m. Tuesday for all county roads under its jurisdiction.

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