Pothole season keeps Lewis and Clark County roadworkers busy

Pothole season keeps Lewis and Clark County roadworkers busy
Posted at 5:17 PM, Apr 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-01 20:50:26-04

HELENA — Flowers aren’t the only thing sprouting in spring, potholes tend to pop up too. According to the Lewis and Clark County Road and Bridge Department, March and April are what they consider “pothole season.”

The Lewis and Clark County Road and Bridge Department maintains 572 miles of road stretched out across the 35,000-square-mile county. During spring, they’re busy patching potholes on those roads.

“We have been patching every day for the last 12 or 13 days,” Lewis and Clark County Road and Bridge operations superintendent Kevin Horne said. “Generally, we do about four tons of asphalt per day, so a lot of asphalt patching in the last two-and-a-half weeks.”

The county Road and Bridge Department aren’t the only ones busy--potholes are driving a lot of business at Kolar Tire and Auto in Helena.

“We’ve been towing in quite a few,” Kolar Tire and Auto owner Frank Kolar said. “Usually they’re not able to drive in, (a pothole) causes significant damage, so the car is not drivable.”

Depending on factors like speed, Kolar said even a small pothole can cause thousands of dollars in damage to a car or truck.

“It can be up in the couple thousand dollar range with some of these new vehicles,” Kolar said.

While you can see potholes on the road surface, their cause lurks below the asphalt.

“It does have to do with the cycles the ground is going through,” Horne said.

Spring freezing and thawing, plus frost melt saturating the ground can lead to a pothole. The county puts weight limits on roads during the spring to help protect asphalt surfaces while they are most vulnerable to developing a pothole.

There is a full list of roads with temporary and permanent weight restrictions on the county website.

“One semi-tractor trailer, loaded about 80,000 pounds—give or take—is equivalent to 2,380 passenger vehicles,” Horne said. “One tractor-trailer does as much damage as that many vehicles on a daily basis.”

Horne said cracking, or “spiderwebbing,” in asphalt can be a sign a pothole is forming.

Road problems and potholes can be reported to the Lewis and Clark County Road and Bridge Department. Horne asks people to keep the county’s size in mind—they are working to fix issues on roads spread out over a lot of space.

“We are out there day-in and day-out, whether it be pothole patching, sweeping this time of the year, and a lot of grading operations taking place,” Horne said.

While looking out for potholes, Horne also asks that people keep an eye out for road signs. Signs can warn drivers about upcoming road conditions and the presence of workers out fixing the roadways.