As its name suggests, a pothole is a bowl-shaped hole in a road that usually forms as a result of water seeping into pavement cracks and freezing during winter months. Because water expands when it freezes, the cracks become wider and deeper. Over time, the larger cracks, combined with the weight of traffic, cause the road's pavement to break up. While potholes are more prevalent in early spring, they can occur year-round.
Repairing potholes is important because they not only lead to more expensive road repairs but cause wear and tear on your vehicle, make for bumpy rides and pose safety risks.
Potholes vs. Other Roadway Defects
Not all defects in the road are potholes. For various reasons, the top layer of pavement can break and form a shallow divot, known as delamination.
Delamination (Other Road Defect)
NCDOT crews work proactively to maintain and repair about 80,000 miles of state-maintained roads in North Carolina – enough to drive from Wilmington to Barstow, Calif., 31 times. Because of the vast amount of roads, NCDOT typically only patches delaminations if they are severe. There simply is not enough funding to patch every roadway imperfection.
How NCDOT Addresses Potholes
Maintenance crews' first priority is to patch potholes and other road defects that are safety concerns.
To patch a pothole, crews first clean out any pavement, gravel or water in the hole. They then fill it with new asphalt and compact it to roadway level.
Some patches last longer than others. One reason, for example, is that, asphalt plants are closed in the winter and hot asphalt is not available. This means crews typically use what is called a "cold mix," which does not always adhere to the surrounding pavement as well as hot asphalt does.
How NCDOT Prevents Potholes
NCDOT focuses on a proactive strategy to help prevent potholes. During the warmer months, for example, maintenance crews apply a thin overlay of asphalt to roads to keep them in good condition in cooler months. During the winter, crews seal existing cracks to keep out water.
These measures are cost effective, because they help prevent problems that lead to more expensive repairs in the future.
How to File a Property Damage Claim
Drivers whose vehicles are damaged because of a pothole can file a tort claim to request reimbursement for damages. The claim form must be mailed to the NCDOT office in the county where the damage occurred. (View a list of county offices.)
If the damage happened in a work zone for a contracted project, NCDOT will forward the driver's claim to the contractor, who is responsible for the road conditions in the construction area.
Otherwise, NCDOT will submit the driver's claim, as well as its own report, to the N.C. State Attorney General's Office, which will determine whether NCDOT knew about the pothole and made an effort to repair it within a reasonable length of time. If the Attorney General's Office denies the claim, drivers can appeal to the N.C. Industrial Commission. For more information, contact the Attorney General's Office.