Most of Michigan saw some snow on Halloween this year. Likewise, record cold temps were recorded in November. All this, and we still haven't even gotten to the heart of winter yet. This could spell bad news for continuing road repair efforts across the state. In this post, we are going to look at the role that long, hard winters have in Michigan's notoriously-bad roads.
It's not breaking news that potholes and general road deterioration get worse in late-winter and early-spring. The weather and particularly the freeze-thaw cycle and certainly plays a role. That role is actually exacerbated by the road salt necessary to help keep roads in better driving conditions during the snowy winter months.
What is Road Salt?
Road salt, also known as rock salt, is very similar to regular table salt, but much coarser in texture. From a molecular standpoint the two are the same: sodium chloride (NaCl). Road salt, because it is not really intended for consumption, isn't purified like table salt. That's why it has a gray (or sometimes brown) color. Road salt will also often contain some additives to prevent sticking and make delivery and application easier.
What is the Freeze-Thaw Cycle?
Road deterioration, which includes potholes, are cause by water that seeps into the cracks in pavement and asphalt. Once the water has settled all it takes is sub-freezing temps for that water to expand as it freezes into ice. The process further weakens the pavement and asphalt. Once vehicles travel over these weakened areas and BLAM, potholes.
As the water freezes to ice it expands. Then, it will thaw again and resettle into new spaces... where it freezes again. This cycle continues over the course of winter. Road salt can often make this problem worse because it changes the temperature at which the water freezes. While regular water freezes at 32 degrees, water that has been mixed with road salt doesn't freeze until about 15-17 degrees, depending upon the amount of salt.
Longer, colder winters usually require more salting than mild winters, which means a higher concentration of salt water permeating pavement and asphalt. Those same conditions also usually mean that temps stay lower for longer periods of time. As such, the freeze-thaw cycle, because it happens in the 15-17 degree range with salt water, happens more frequently; this accelerates road deterioration.
There are certainly different ways to cook an egg. One tactic to improve overall road conditions is to make repairs more frequently. Several rough winters in succession can render some roads almost undriveable. Fixing the potholes with regularity can keep them from getting worse, as well as reduce the likelihood of resulting vehicle damage.
Another tactic, which actually works best in conjunction with more frequent repairs, is to use a cold-weather mix asphalt patching compound. These blends are designed to not only patch existing potholes, but also be more resistant to the colder temps that rough winters can bring. Do these blends tend to cost more? Of course. At some point, though, the conversation has to be had regarding whether the cost for this process is an expense or an investment.
Nobody likes a really long winter. Most people have their own list of reasons. The role it has on our roads is surely on many of those lists. Knowing how water, salt, and the freeze-thaw cycle play a role in road deterioration is the first step in figuring out an effective (and preferably efficient) way to address it.
Of course, if you are looking for commercial snow removal services, we'd sure appreciate it if you would give E.P.M. LawnScape and Supply an opportunity. Simply contact us online or call us at (517) 990-0110 today!