Springtime in Colorado Brings More Than May Flowers

May 12, 2011 - Statewide Transportation Plan - STATEWIDE – Spring is here and as Coloradans welcome the warmer temperatures, it may also be a time of frustration for drivers.

Fluctuating temperatures that are warmer during the day and colder at night create the freeze-thaw effect that increases the potential for rockfall and accelerates the ability for a pothole to form.  During rain and spring snow showers and in the days following, the potential for these occurrences is the greatest.

“Whether you are traveling in the city or in the high country, it’s especially critical this time of year that you keep your eye on the roadway ahead so that you can avoid a rock that may have fallen or a pothole that has surfaced,” said CDOT Executive Director Don Hunt. “We try very hard to be proactive and prevent rockfall and potholes from happening through the use of quality materials and preventative maintenance, but we do live in Colorado and our weather conditions create an environment where hazards such as these are going to occur at some level despite our best efforts.”

Potholes: Potholes are created when pavement or the base material beneath it cannot support the weight of the traffic it carries.  The factors that contribute to this problem are traffic and water.  Pavement develops cracks over time due to traffic and/or water freezing and expanding.  When water seeps into the pavement, it can wash away or erode the base material underneath the pavement leaving nothing to support it. When traffic passes over it, that’s when it collapses and the pothole is formed.

Because of temperatures and wet conditions, potholes are currently being addressed with temporary fixes that  involve using tar and gravel — known as a "cold patch."  When the weather gets warmer, CDOT crews will use liquid asphalt — the "hot patch" — for a more permanent repair.

In the last year, CDOT maintenance crews have repaired more than 9,000 potholes in the Denver metro area alone and repaired and conducted maintenance on more than 4.2 million square yards of roadway surface across the state. In addition, CDOT spends over $40 million annually on preventative maintenance work including resurfacing and crack sealing.

To report a pothole on a state highway or Interstate only (not a neighborhood or local road) email [email protected] or call 800-999-4997.

Rockfall: CDOT also has a very active rockfall program, which is designed to help prevent rockslides from occurring and even rocks from hitting the roadways.

The rockfall program, which started in 1996, was created to track rockfall information, implement a rating system and mitigate potential hazardous areas.  Currently, the Colorado Transportation Commission allocates over $4 million for rockfall mitigation each fiscal year, which will generally allow for mitigation at five to seven sites statewide.

To determine which sites are of high priority, several factors are analyzed including slope profile, geological characteristics and traffic statistics. This information is then incorporated into the Colorado Rockfall Hazard Rating System (CRHRS) and sites are then prioritized and selected based on their rating.  There are over 750 sites included in this program statewide.

“Our rockfall program is extremely important to the safety of Colorado motorists as it allows us reduce the potential of rocks falling onto our state’s highways,” added Hunt.  “The mitigation efforts vary at each location, but our ultimate goal is to provide some sort of protection method and stabilization.  However, even with mitigation work, a rock can still fall onto the highway.  That is why it is so critical for motorists to pay attention to warning signs and to stay alert when traveling through canyons and mountain highways, especially in the springtime.”