Freezing Weather And A Wet Winter Damage Washington Highways

Mar 7, 2017

It’s been a tough winter for the Northwest. For some places, it was the coldest winter in decades. There was plenty of snow and rain and a cycle of thawing and freezing. That adds up to some serious road damage - potholes, rough surfaces and washed out roads.

The Washington State Department of Transportation is responsible for maintaining state routes and the interstates. WSDOT spokeswoman Barbara LaBoe says they’re expecting more work this year, along with higher costs.

Much of the damage - especially potholes - is weather-related.. Water gets into cracks or beneath areas that were previously repaired. When it freezes, it expands, breaking apart the roads. In a winter like this one, with temperatures constantly shifting above and below freezing, the damage is worse.

Studded tires and chains can also hurt the roads, creating cracks and grooves that road workers call “raveling.” And guardrails need to be repaired or replaced as well - cars and trees can both damage them in winter.

Road repairs will have to wait until after winter. Water prevents repairs from setting properly, and can cause more damage when it freezes again. To fix a pothole, crews grind it down, then repair it with “hot mix,” made of asphalt and construction aggregate. Then crews roll it flat. Drivers can generally use the road again in a few hours, but the lane has to be closed while the patch dries.

In 2015, Washington passed a transportation package that includes around $1.4 billion for highway maintenance. However, Washington counties, especially east of the Cascades, are still facing extraordinary costs for road repair.