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Random Thoughts

Pot Wholes

Hudson Cooper
Posted 5/6/22

It is finally beginning to feel like spring has sprung in Sullivan County. The trees are starting to show the green tint of leaves. Flowers are poking through the ground. Songbirds are actively …

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Random Thoughts

Pot Wholes


It is finally beginning to feel like spring has sprung in Sullivan County. The trees are starting to show the green tint of leaves. Flowers are poking through the ground. Songbirds are actively gobbling seeds and suet from my feeders. All those signs of spring are a welcomed change from the winter of our discontent that we experienced this year. But there is one annual rite of spring that is not welcomed. It is pothole season.

Potholes of all sizes and depths create havoc on our roads. No road surface is excluded. Whether it is Route 17 or High Street in Monticello, motorists must be on pothole alert. Despite knowing that driving requires constant attention to the vehicles around you, I find myself paying too much attention to the axle-breaking potholes that seemingly all at once appear on our roads.

I know that I am not alone when I look for potholes. I can tell that my car is following a fellow county dweller when we perform what I refer to as the “Sullivan Slalom.” After a few days of avoiding potholes during this time of year, I know exactly where the tire-popping ones are located. I zig and zag around them trying to avoid damaging my car. Often, I see the car in front of me leading the way through the seasonal slalom course. Glancing in my rearview mirror I see the cars behind me following my non-linear swerving path.

Pothole season lasts for a few weeks every year. Eventually, as if by magic, most of them are patched leaving a harmless bump on the road instead of a 5-inch hole. I am grateful for whatever county department is responsible for trying to fix the potholes. However, since they are a yearly occurrence, I decided to research the problem.

Initially I wanted to know how potholes got their name. One theory dates back to ancient Rome. The Romans were excellent road builders allowing them to expand their empire. Their roads were mostly made from clay. Eventually, pottery makers found that the clay was perfect for their wares. They dug up cylindrical chunks to make their pots, leaving holes in the road. Another theory is that scientists refer to cylindrical depressions in glaciers as potholes. As an aside, if you think our potholes are large, consider Archbald Pothole in Pennsylvania. It is 42-feet wide and 38-feet deep! It is believed to have been created 70,000 years ago during one of the glacial periods.

I reached out to Pierre Rockman author of “Pebbles, Pavements and People,” to find out how potholes form. Potholes are created when groundwater seeps underneath a paved surface. In the winter, the water freezes and expands causing the pavement above to crack open, eventually forming a pothole. That explains why highways like Route 17 in our area, get a series of potholes alongside the right-hand lane. Driving over them makes a tire thumping sound like a Charlie Watts drumbeat. Water collects under the edge of the road surface leading to stretches of wheel alignment disruptions.

With the knowledge that water is the ultimate cause of potholes I wondered if there was any way to protect the road surface. Sealing visible cracks in the road surface can prevent or at least delay the formation of potholes. However, if water is the starting point in the creation of potholes, maybe there is another way to preserve the integrity of the pavement.

Over two thousand years ago, Aristotle articulated that “water seeks its own level.” Maybe the pothole problem is caused by the road being level. If our road surfaces were constructed so that they had a slight tilt to the curbside, perhaps water would seek its own level and not collect in the tiny cracks that initiate potholes.

Potholes are not the whole problem on our roads. There are other street obstacles to avoid. Why does it seem like every manhole cover has dropped a few inches below the road surface? Many of them have bright orange traffic cones to alert drivers and delineate the “Sullivan Slalom” course. So drive carefully and enjoy springtime in our county.


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