Wretched pothole season leads TDOT to create task force to investigate asphalt

Drivers complain it's the worst pothole season they've experienced on interstates
TDOT Begins Patching I-440 Potholes
Posted at 10:38 AM, Mar 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-24 14:45:39-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — As anyone who travels Middle Tennessee roadways knows, this year has been especially bumpy.

Winter weather hit the midstate hard. Nashville recorded 12.3 inches of snow this winter season — a steep jump from the average, which is between four and five inches, according to NewsChannel 5 Senior Meteorologist Lelan Statom.

Potholes form after water seeps into the asphalt and can be especially bad if the water freezes and then melts, leading the molecules to expand and contract. When the water recedes it can leave cracks behind and when traffic rolls over that weak spot, it can lead to holes on the road.

Crews have worked while understaffed, bringing in additional contractors to help tackle the potholes during a reported 30 percent vacancy, Tennessee Dept. of Transportation spokesperson Rebekah Hammonds says. Those on the job have shut down interstate lanes and slowed traffic for miles to try to smooth out the roads.

From January through March 10, TDOT reports crews have performed more than 1,500 tons of pothole patching in the Middle Tennessee region alone, for a total cost of nearly $1.1 million.

That's a 27% increase from 2021. And the numbers TDOT provided from last year included an extra week of work.

Now, a new task force will examine if one of TDOT's asphalt mixes may be contributing to the issue. TDOT says the task force will include staff from several different departments to test the asphalt mix and look into the current application method along with potential improvements.

This asphalt mix is known as Open Graded Friction Course. Nationwide, it's been used since the 1950s and it's known to drain water well. TDOT first began to use it in 2005 and staff believe it's helped reduce crashes in wet conditions. But agencies across the country have mixed reviews for OGFC when dealing with snow and ice. The Federal Highway Administration reports it can require special snow and ice control methods and generally remain icy longer.

TDOT says there is no timeline for the task force to report back, but the primary goal is to keep the roads smoother in the future, despite unpredictable winter weather and heavier traffic flows in a growing area.