Vehicles drive along Northgate Mile on Monday, Feb. 25.

The city of Idaho Falls and the Idaho Transportation Department began filling potholes this week, shifting crews and resources away from snow removal to pothole repair.

Idaho Falls drivers have been bouncing in and out of potholes or swerving into other lanes to avoid them for months — probably wondering when, if ever, they’ll be fixed.

In a Feb. 27 interview with the Post Register, Idaho Falls city engineer Kent Fugal explained how potholes happen and why the deep cavities that litter Idaho Falls streets couldn’t be fixed until now.

Potholes form when water gets underneath the pavement, Fugal said.

“Getting water underneath your pavement is the biggest enemy that we have,” he said.

Water seeps through cracks in the pavement, which naturally develop over time. During the winter, that water will freeze and expand in the underlying soil, then it will thaw and detract.

“That thawing does even more damage,” Fugal said. “It makes that soil structure underneath the roadway really tender. You can get a lot of movement and things break up. And you have potholes.”

Idaho Falls probably isn’t the only city dealing with potholes right now. It’s a problem anywhere that experiences cold, wet winters.

“Anywhere that you have a cold climate like ours, where you get that hard freeze, potholes are always going to be challenging,” Fugal said.

Fugal said roads have to be perfectly maintained to avoid the cracks that will lead to potholes.

“We’re not going to ever be able to perfectly maintain the roads,” he said. “That would mean we’re out there putting a surface treatment on every road on an almost annual basis.”

But why do we have to suffer through potholes all winter?

“The best time to do any kind of paving is when it’s the hottest,” Fugal said.

When it’s cold, “you can’t get your material in there and get it to actually adhere and stick,” he said.

Typically, April is the best time to begin fixing potholes, Fugal said.

With temperatures in the mid-40s this week, the city Public Works Department switched gears from snow removal to pothole repairs.

The snow on Wednesday should not impact the pothole repairs, according to Idaho Falls public information officer Kerry Hammon. The city is using a cold-weather gravel mix, which will be a temporary fix until the weather is warm enough to permanently fill in the holes.

Some of the worst potholes in Idaho Falls are on Broadway Street and Yellowstone Avenue/Northgate Mile. The city made clear in a recent news release that those roads are under ITD’s jurisdiction.

“We have received several concerns about potholes on Broadway and Yellowstone/Northgate Mile,” Hammon said in the release. “Although those two roadways run through the city of Idaho Falls, they are highways and therefore maintained by the Idaho Transportation Department.”

ITD operations engineer Wade Allen said the department began filling potholes on Northgate Mile this week.

“Starting (Monday), ITD crews will be working on pothole repairs on Broadway and Yellowstone/Northgate mile and will do so in the evening hours to lessen the impact to the public,” Allen said in the release. “We appreciate the public’s patience as state road crews are still addressing significant challenges with snow removal in other parts of the state.”

ITD public information officer Megan Stark said on Wednesday that ITD crews are using a DuraPatcher, a pothole-fixing machine. She said the DuraPatcher creates a more durable fix than a cold-weather gravel mix.

Stark said both Yellowstone Avenue/Northgate Mile and Broadway Street will have potholes fixed this week.

To report a pothole or other street issue in Idaho Falls, click on the “Report Pothole” link on the city’s website homepage. If the problem is hazardous, call the Street Division immediately at 208-612-8490.

To report a street issue in Bonneville County, call Bonneville County Road and Bridge at 208-529-1290.

To report issues with Yellowstone/Northgate Mile and Broadway, call ITD at 208-745-7781.

Reporter Ryan Suppe can be reached at 208-542-6762. Follow him on Twitter: @salsuppe.

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