Purdue researchers combat potholes on Indiana roadways

The freezing and thawing of the season is creating potholes around Indiana.
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Hoosier motorists are bracing themselves for potholes that cost hundreds, even thousands, in repairs that are breaking open on Indiana roads.

But new road-building materials developed in Indiana could make highways more pothole-proof. Materials that are currently being used to combat deterioration on bridges may be used on potholes.

"You're usually looking at bent wheels, bad tie rods on the steering. Some of them bust ball joints out," said mechanic Al Cooprider.

On top of those fixes, Cooprider says, figure in a new alignment and repairs can start at about $300.

"Then send 'em back out on the road to hit some more," he said.

It's that season - freeze, then thaw, then potholes.

"Just today, we were driving. She freaked out a bit," said Tanner Smale of his friend, Kaitlin. "There were some huge potholes and it was either go over the pothole or hit the car next to us."

Standing along busy Maryland Street downtown, a Purdue researcher points to deep cracks in the concrete roadway.

"As we start to look at cracks in concrete, what cracks really do is allow fluids to get inside that concrete to be transferred in very quickly and this is something that further speeds up degradation. Helps it fall apart faster," said Purdue professor Jason Weiss.

So researchers at the university cooked up a way to toughen concrete - even before it's poured.

Right now, typical highway concrete is heavy with sand. The Purdue recipe substitutes other materials for sand, like ground gravel. The new materials act like a sponge to hold in moisture.

It's called "internal curing." Now, not only the top of the fresh roadway gets wet down, the moisture is spread throughout the concrete making it stronger and less likely to crack.

A bridge built that way three years ago in Monroe County hasn't cracked yet. While another one the same age, built the old way, has cracks.

The new materials cost more.

"But costs are three to five percent on the cost of the material," says professor Weiss. "And if you're doubling the service life on that structure, there's going to be a long-term savings."

Just the last two years alone, Marion County filled over 25,000 potholes. Maintenance costs add up.

"It's nice to spend a little more on the front end, then get that maximum benefit on the back end," said taxpayer John Jeanette.

"If it's a longer term solution, that has to be positive," said Nick Puckett of Indianapolis.

"It is absolutely worth spending more money on the infrastructure," said motorist Jeff McQuary.

Right now, the new materials are only being applied to bridges. Four more bridge decks will go in around Indiana in the coming construction season.

But that could eventually spread to roadways, too.

Purdue video on internal curing