But it's no laughing matter. ASCE estimates it would take an investment of $3.6 trillion by 2020 to ensure the safety of highways, bridges, the power grid and other public resources.
American motorists are already paying the price: TRIP, a nonprofit organization that researches surface transportation issues, released a report last year estimating that "unacceptably rough" roads cost the average urban driver $377 a year in repairs — or a total of $80 billion nationwide.
Is anyone doing roads right?
In an interview with the Guardian newspaper about the state of Great Britain's roads, David Weeks, director of that nation's Asphalt Industry Alliance, even gave props to the ancient rival across the Channel. "This sort of thing doesn't happen in Scandinavia or France, where they mend the roads properly," he said.
Mats Wendel of the Swedish Transport Administration thinks America could learn something from his country, which he believes has stricter rules on asphalt composition and road construction than the U.S. to account for the wet and cold. He says additives such as cement and lime are compulsory in the top layer of asphalt on Swedish roads, and that there are even stricter limits on air bubbles within the asphalt.
"We take the frost in the ground into consideration when we construct our roads, and they don't really do that in the U.S.," he says.
But he says Sweden has also borrowed a page from road builders in Arizona and California, who use rubber in the mix to avoid cracks. "Some U.S. states use it to a great extent," Wendel says. "But not on the East Coast."
In fairness, Thomas Bennert, a research professor at Rutgers University's Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation, says it's hard to compare Stockholm with New York.
"You can go to parts of Scandinavia where I'm sure they don't have to really do anything, because the roads are not really traveled as heavily," he says. "You do need that pounding of the traffic to really hit it."
Regardless of what they're doing elsewhere, what really matters is what's happening right here at home, says Galehouse. He says Americans pay about $21 a month on average in state and federal road taxes — a fraction of what they pay for cable television or a cell phone.
"And yet what is one of our most expensive investments out there?" he says. "It's our automobile. And we're wrecking our automobiles because we're hitting potholes ... The key is not fixing them. The key is preventing them."
But the patching goes on.
Boston has "Potzilla." Others are investing in so-called "pothole killer" machines, says Haas.
"A person right from the cab of the vehicle can blow highly compressed air to get all the water and debris out of a pothole," he marvels. "It unloads its asphalt and aggregate mixture down into there, and then it compacts it — all in one breath. And it just moves on to the next pothole."
Still, much work being done this hectic season has been what those in the industry call "throw-and-roll" — slap some "cold mix" of stone and liquid asphalt into the hole, roll over it with the truck, and move on.
Researchers at Nottingham Trent University and the University of Nottingham in England found that applying a coat of bitumen emulsion between two layers of asphalt "greatly improved its resistance to further cracks." They also confirmed that a hot mix repair — in which the asphalt was heated to 284 degrees or higher — was the best option for fixing holes 1 inch and deeper.
If "a few simple and cost-effective measures are applied with each repair then there may be less need for as many repeat repairs," and savings could be in the millions annually, Mujib Rahman, one of the study's co-authors, said in a university release last February.
All of this is cold comfort for American drivers.