Village of Arlington Heights

The Truth About Potholes



Why are they called potholes?

Pottery makers in 15th and 16th century England would take advantage of the ruts that wagon and coach wheels gouged into roads. Anxious for a cheap source of raw materials for making clay pots, the potters would dig into the deep ruts to reach clay deposits underneath. Teamsters driving wagons and coaches over those roads knew who and what caused these holes and referred to them as “potholes.”

What causes a pothole?

Potholes are created when the pavement or the material beneath it—called base or subbase—cannot support the weight of the traffic it carries. Two factors are always present in such a failure: Traffic and Water. The “formation period” for a pothole includes these milestones:
  • Snow or rain seeps into cracks in the pavement and into the soil below, causing mud and eroding support as a hole forms under the pavement.
  • Repeated freeze/thaw cycles or traffic cause the ground to expand and push up the pavement.
  • With temperature increases, the ground returns to its previous level; however, the pavement does not drop, which results in a gap between the road surface and the ground below.
  • Vehicles driving over the raised pavement cause the surface to crack and fall into the hollow area below the pavement, which creates the pothole.

Conditions resulting in the formation of a pothole or pavement failure 

How are potholes repaired?

Pothole patching is generally performed either as an emergency repair under harsh conditions or as routine maintenance scheduled for warmer and drier periods. Depending on the materials used, patching can be performed during weather that ranges from clear spring days to harsh winter storms, with temperatures ranging from 0°F to 100°F.

The Public Work's Street Unit performs two distinct pothole repair functions during our construction season which runs generally from April 1 through December 1. Our first responsibility is to fill potholes when we receive constructive notice either from our own crews or the public. This activity is a temporary fix to eliminate the immediate hazard. This work is only temporary until our permanent patching crew can get to that location or the street is scheduled for resurfacing.

Installation of a permanent patch

The second responsibility is permanent asphalt patching. Crews performing this function square off repair areas by saw cutting the pavement for full depth asphalt patching.

In areas where pavement damage is extensive, we recently began an in-house milling and overlay program to supplement our permanent patching efforts.

Pavement grinding in progress

It should be noted that using asphalt to patch potholes in concrete pavement is not as durable as patching potholes in asphalt pavement. The difference in the materials impedes the ability to form a secure bond between the pavement and the patch. The long-term solution is to make a permanent patch using concrete. Public Works crews do perform concrete patches on concrete streets, but these repairs are very expensive and funding is limited.

The Village of Arlington Heights strives to repair potholes on streets under our jurisdiction as soon as we are made aware of a hazardous condition.


What influences pavement life?

In general, pavement life is influenced by many factors: vehicle loading (axle loads, tire pressure and gross vehicle weight [GVW]), traffic volume and mix, environment, subgrade condition, initial pavement design, initial construction practices, maintenance and pavement age.
Although the public likes all potholes to be repaired promptly and tends to form a negative opinion of the municipality, state or other transportation agency when they are not, the decision to patch potholes is influenced by many factors as follows:
  • Weather conditions
  • The level of traffic
  • The time until scheduled rehabilitation or overlay
  • The availability of personnel, equipment, and materials
  • The tolerance of the traveling public

Pavement Maintenance:

The Public Works Department is responsible for the maintenance of Village owned streets between initial construction and resurfacing or reconstruction cycles. Projects to periodically resurface or reconstruct Village streets are administered by the Village's Engineering Department. Between these cycles, pavements are maintained by filling potholes, making permanent pavement patches, and by crack filling.

Public Works personnel oversee an annual Motor Fuel Tax (MFT) contract for crack sealing. This work concentrates on pavements that are two to four years old and the cracks are sealed with a bituminous material that prevents moisture intrusion into the pavement subbase. Moisture intrusion is the primary cause of potholes and pavement failure. For the first time in 2010, Public Works crew supplemented the contractual crack sealing with some in-house work.

 Crack sealing in progress

How do I report a pothole?

Potholes can be reported directly to the Public Works Department by completing a Resident Request for Service or by Phone: 847.368.5800

Please keep in mind that not all streets within the Village are maintained by the Village. For a map showing the jurisdiction of the arterial streets within the Village, follow the link below.

Village of Arlington Heights | Streets by Jurisdiction


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