How cold temperatures affect roads and lead to damage

Published: Jan. 25, 2022 at 7:17 AM CST
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - The weather that’s in effect until Wednesday is one contributor to much of the road damage we see around this time of year. Extreme low temperatures can cause asphalt to contract and shrink, leading to road damages.

Taking a balloon and blowing it up inside, then taking it outside in the cold, is an example of the science that’s happening to the roads we drive on every day.

Superintendent for the City of Wausau’s Public Works Department, Dustin Kraege said this is how potholes form and other road damages, like cracks. “When the roads heat up they expand, and so any pieces of concrete or asphalt that you have will expand and push into each other and so you get where they push up or you know breaks the edges up and start to crumble, and then as traffic starts to drive over it, it pops that stuff out.”

He added that the same thing happens with water when it freezes, it’ll expand. So when the snow starts to melt and we see days where it’s below 0, if the water is in the cracks, it can push the asphalt up or down and create more problems that way.

But fixing the potholes in winter can be more of a challenge. Kraege said when it does come time to fill potholes or other road erosions in the winter, it’s more of a temporary fix. “We can’t use good hot mix asphalt in the winter time, we have to use our cold mix, and unfortunately that’s more of a band-aid than anything else. We’re just trying to level out the area reduce the damage caused by traffic, and just get us through until the summer time where we can send our crews out and do a more permanent patch.”

He said the department takes calls all year round when it comes to reporting road damage. He added that his department is improving its process. Kraege said in the past, people were able to see patch trucks out all day, every day. But he said they’ve been doing more with its milling machine, which helps create a bigger patch that will last longer than the mix and packing it down.

If you want to report street damage, call the Public Works Department at 715-261-6960.

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