Roadways Hit by Indiana's Warmer Winters

Roadways Hit by Indiana's Warmer Winters

File this under the "climate change impacts everything” tab: Warming winter temperatures are making potholes on Indianapolis roads worse. It’s a known fact that winter weather wreaks havoc on America’s roadways. Freezing temperatures make for stiffer asphalt which makes for cracks. As moisture moves between ice and water states, it expands and contracts, widening cracks and creating potholes. In the past, Indianapolis winter temperatures would drop below freezing and stay there for much of the season, but that’s no longer the case. This winter, nearly a quarter of the days experienced a "freeze-thaw cycle” in a 24-hour period.

"It’s the over and under freezing temperatures in a single day that really undoes the streets,” Department of Public Works spokesman Ben Easley told the Indianapolis Star.

We Are Iowa Local 5: Des Moines, Windsor heights gearing up for the 2022 pothole season, February 9, 2022.

Why This Matters

The increasing number of potholes in Indianapolis exemplifies climate change’s impacts on infrastructure and the need for cities -- not just coastal ones -- to seek adaptation and mitigation strategies. The end of consistent winter weather spells trouble for roads across all of the Midwest. More potholes aren’t just a nuisance -- they spell more work for Departments of Public Works. According to a 2017 US Department of Transportation (USDOT) report, cities might need to reconsider their weight limits on roads, as the asphalt becomes more prone to cracking.

WCVB Channel 5 Boston: How climate change is making Mass. pothole season longer, more costly, March 2, 2022.

Weather On The Road

The 2017 USDOT report outlines a number of impacts that climate change will have on roads and road maintenance, including how hotter days can buckle pavement. More ice storms are expected, which will likely increase storm damage, especially to trees and powerlines. Roadways are also expected to flood more often, requiring traffic to be rerouted, as are more frequent dust storms that could impair visibility and call for increased monitoring by DOT employees.

According to AAA, drivers spend nearly $3 billion annually repairing damages caused by potholes. In Michigan, for example, the state DOT fills 400,000 potholes annually, a cost of six to seven million dollars. Future heatwaves are expected to increase roadway damages and costs.

WXYZ-TV Detroit | Channel 7: Is the government responsible if potholes damage your vehicle?, February 7, 2022.

WXYZ-TV Detroit | Channel 7: Potholes place Michigan roads as the worst across the country, Twitter data shows, March 2, 2022.