Washboard commute? I-394 has a bumper crop of potholes

  • Blog Post by: Tim Harlow
  • January 24, 2014 - 5:30 PM

Temperatures on Friday flirting with the freezing mark had many winter-weary Minnesotans cheering but Minnesota Department of Transportation officials cringing.

The one-day break from the sub-zero weather will only exacerbate the burgeoning pothole problem that's making Twin Cities roads look like they have a bad case of acne and feel like washboards.

Among the worst is Interstate 394 between downtown Minneapolis and Hwy. 100. As one commuter tweeted: "On 394 west between downtown and 100 is like driving on the moon, so many potholes."

Cliff Gergen, who works in MnDOT's Smooth Roads maintenance program, says they will be filled as soon as the weather cooperates.

"Snow and ice have been continuing and that is our problem. There is no chance to patch day after day," Gergen said. Even if crews had time, "we have to use a cold mix and our plows would plow it right off. We are aware of what's going on. A fix is coming but that doesn't help the problem [now]."

While potholes are appearing on roads statewide, I-394 east of Hwy. 100 is particularly vulnerable to the depressions because a thin asphalt overlay is peeling away. Originally built as a concrete freeway, some who lived along the heavily traveled freeway in adjoining Minneapolis neighborhoods complained about the pavement noise. The Legislature passed a law in the 1990s directing MnDOT to put down an asphalt mixture with a higher friction resistance to reduce tire noise, said Curt Turgeon, a state pavement engineer.

The first layer was put down in 1996. When it wore out in 2004, MnDOT replaced it with a material that was "stickier and gooier" which allowed the agency to put it on thinner and meet the law's requirement, Turgeon said.

"We were thinking it might stick and perform a little better," Turgeon said.

But now the layer, which is scheduled to be replace in 2015, is peeling away and concrete joints below are showing through. Repeated snowfalls have supplied ample moisture to settle in the cracks and freeze, then cause the pavement to pop when it thaws.

"It's like packing ice inside of ice in these crevices," Turgeon said. "It [the snow and ice] bores into weak places."

Gergen said MnDOT will make temporary repairs as soon as conditions allow. Until then the best scenario is for the weather to remain cold and dry.

I-394 is not the only road with a bumper crop of potholes. "It's a statewide problem," Gergen said. "It never quiets down. It's always constant."

Motorists can report potholes here.

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