In Canada, as in most northern countries, spring means potholes. In French they’re aptly described as nids de poule, “hen’s nests”.
Whatever you call them, potholes result when a tiny bit of water makes its way into a crack in the pavement, where it freezes and expands. The expansion in the brittle, frozen asphalt creates a bigger crack, into which more water seeps during the next warm spell, and the cycle continues and continues until cavities the size of stock pots rut the roadway. Given time, a macadamized highway can literally crumble back to a cowpath.
Canadians probably spend more money restoring their roads after winter than they spend on national defence. So much for the wisdom of ripping up our railway tracks.
There is a lesson, though, in how we conduct pothole repair.
There are essentially two approaches to the pothole problem: reaction or prevention. The cheapest approach in the very short run is reaction– send out crews with hot asphalt to fill in the potholes, and repeat this every spring and summer.
But patches, by their very nature, result in larger cracks than were the original cause of the pothole. Ultimately, of course, you end up with a bone-jarring stretch of road composed of nothing but pothole patches, while the foundation below, now compromised, heaves and twists with every frost.
Or we can build the road better in the first place, ensuring proper drainage, well-engineered foundations, and high-quality surfaces. More costly initially, but in the long run living proof of the adage “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Life’s like that, isn’t it?