CHARLESTON, WV – Nobody likes potholes, especially the men and women who work tirelessly to patch them.
So the West Virginia Division of Highways (WVDOH) has begun its annual fight against potholes, starting with prevention. Highways officials have spent the past couple of winters undertaking an aggressive campaign to trim tree canopy above the state’s roadways and ditch along highways as a means of reducing potholes.
Both efforts reduce the amount of standing water on the roads; the main source of potholes.
“Water gets down into the cracks in the road and freezes,” said Travis Knighton, District Engineer for District 1, which includes Boone, Clay, Kanawha, Mason, and Putnam counties.
Water expands when it freezes. This widens the cracks in the road. As water continues to freeze and thaw, the cracks get bigger and bigger until they turn into potholes.
Knighton said standing water on the road can also cause soft spots in the road during the summer months, which can also lead to potholes.
Jamie Rossi, District Engineer for District 8, which includes Pendleton, Pocahontas, Randolph, and Tucker counties, said cutting canopy above West Virginia’s roads allows more sunlight to hit the road’s surface, drying the pavement when the road is wet.
Combined with aggressive ditching to keep water off the roads, Rossi said canopy cutting is a vital weapon in the fight against potholes.
“It’s very important,” Rossi said. “We get longer pavement life.”
By law, DOH can only cut canopy above the state’s roads from November through March. Once November comes, Knighton said DOH crews are out in full force, trimming limbs and making sure ditches are clear.
“Last year we had five or six crews going out at the same time in different areas,” Knighton said.
Canopy cutting and ditching operations are ongoing throughout the state as weather allows.
“We’ve already started,” Rossi said. “This week, we are actually cutting canopy over in Tucker County.”
Cutting canopy and ditching operations can be a bit tricky in mountainous terrain like District 8, which includes rugged areas high in the mountains that typically see heavy snowfall.
“We cut canopy until it starts to snow, then we plow snow,” Rossi said. “The milder the winter, the more canopy can be cut.”
Knighton agrees that ditching and canopy cutting are vital preventive measures that Highways officials must take to prolong the life of the state’s roads.
“It’s one of the maintenance things we should always be doing,” Knighton said. “And I appreciate that our leadership within the Division of Highways, as well as Governor Justice, have invested the resources we need to make adequate road maintenance our top priority.”
Asphalt plants don’t run in the winter. But once plants are up and running again in the spring, DOH officials also plan an aggressive campaign to patch the potholes before the summer paving season.