CWW: Do-It-Yourself Pothole Repair

Worcester’s streets are a mess of potholes & shoddy patches.  Ordinary potholes are a regular occurrence, due to the freezing & thawing of the ground beneath the asphalt.  Some holes are man-made, whether by Worcester’s own DPW or by utility companies needing to access something under the road and/or adding service for new construction.  On public streets, most holes eventually get filled, though sometimes the repair crew put either too little or too much asphalt into the hole, thereby creating a new “bump” in the road.  The late Jeff Barnard called these folks Bump Installation Crews (BICs).  The kindly DPW crew who replaced a hydrant on Upland Street this winter installed a bump that’s still there to this day.

Holes created by utility companies get patched quicker than potholes; some potholes remain unfilled for months or years, while unsuspecting drivers “discover” them each day, to the detriment of hubcaps, tires & suspension components.

Worcester also has about a hundred miles of “private” street surface, some of which is paved.  The city of Worcester will plow these streets, but will not patch holes — you’re on your own, pilgrim.  We don’t want you in an icy tailspin, but it’s ok if you get swallowed up by a sinkhole. (Worcester has a quirky sense of humor that way.)

So . . . if you live on a public street and have tired of waiting for your pothole to be filled; or if you live on a private street and you know they’re never going to fill your potholes . . . what can you do?

You could hire a paving company to come along and fill whatever holes are bothering you — but that can be quite expensive.  If you’re reasonably fit, you can fix those holes yourself quickly & cheaply with a few simple tools and a few bags of asphalt patch from your local hardware store.

There are a couple of pavement repair products I’ve used; from Home Depot you can get Commercial Grade Quickcrete Blacktop Repair in a 50 lb. bag for $9.65; at Lowes you can buy QPR High Performance Permanent Pavement Repair in a 50 lb. bag for $13.98.

The QPR seems to have a looser consistency than the Quickcrete, but both seem very durable (there’ll be some photos below of some patches from 2009 that are still holding strong).

TOOLS

Fixing a pothole doesn’t require many tools.  Here’s what I use:

  • old clothes (in case you make a mess)
  • gloves (lest you stain your hands)
  • a broom (to tidy up around potholes that have had dirt dragged out of them)
  • a knife or scissors (to open the bag of patch)
  • a hammer or prybar (to remove loose pieces of pavement)
  • a shovel (to push the patch around within the hole for even coverage)
  • a piece of plywood or concrete backer board (to flatten the repair)

Concrete backer board (thick plywood also works well)

HOW MUCH PATCH TO BUY?

Try to estimate how much of the patch compound you’ll need and have it on hand when you start — you won’t want to suddenly find yourself short and need to dash out to a hardware store with the job half done.  I have found that one 50 lb. bag of patch will fill two small holes or one medium hole.  I’d define a medium hole as being about a foot and a half in diameter and about 4 inches deep.  Larger holes will require multiple bags — to estimate how many, imagine a series of 1.5-foot circles linked together over the large hole

PICK YOUR DAY/TIME

Ideally the holes should be dry and the day you make your repair should be dry.  I’ve only ever done these repairs in the spring or fall; summer’s probably fine, but I probably wouldn’t attempt it in the winter.  I think above-freezing temperatures are best for this sort of thing.

If possible, pick a time of the day for your repair when traffic is lighter — this will be safer for you, and minimize the traffic on your patch when you first get it in.

SAFETY CONSIDERATIONS

Some folks like to use traffic cones to keep passersby away from the work site when they’re patching a pothole.  I haven’t found this necessary — the patch can be driven on shortly after installation anyway.  I have found it helpful to have a “spotter” — someone else with me to let me know if a car is coming, so that I can get out of the road.  In addition, I’ll usually park my car on the side of the road closest to the hole, as the car is noticeable to other drivers and they’ll make an extra effort to get around the vehicle — this creates a small “safety zone” where you’re working.

PREPARE THE HOLE

If you’re going to fill a shallow hole, clear out any loose pavement or large stones; some may be wiggly, but might need a hammer or prybar to get them out:

If filling a deep hole (greater than 6 inches), you can use the pavement chunks and/or rocks to take up space in the deepest parts of the hole.

Here are some holes I filled recently which are obviously shallow & needed debris removed (many of the chunks were used in the deeper parts of the large hole shown below):

Sometimes if the hole is large enough, passing cars drag dirt from the hole; if so, sweep the dirt away from the edges so that the patch has a better surface to which to bond:

This large hole needed a lot of clean-up

POUR IN THE PATCH

The bags are 50 lbs. each and can be a bit awkward.  If you’re concerned about this, you can transfer some of the patch to a plastic bucket first, and then pour.  Otherwise, start pouring from the bag into the hole:

Pour in enough so that you have a little mountain that rises out of the hole — you’re going to be spreading it out a bit toward the hole edges, so that little mound won’t be around long.

EVEN IT OUT

Use a shovel or your hammer to push some of the patch off the top of your little pile toward the edges of the hole, so that it touches all of the edges of the existing pavement.  If you find that this has reduced the little mountain to a little hollow, add some more patch.

Then place your plywood or concrete backer board over the patch and walk around on it for a few minutes — rock a little until the board’s edges settle onto the surface to the road.  If you don’t think you’re heavy enough to level out the patch by walking the board, you can actually drive one wheel of your car onto the board and use the vehicle’s weight to evenly distribute the patch.

Flatten the patch

Remove the board & see if things look fairly level with the road surface.  A little high is ok, but if you now have a bit of a depression, consider adding some more patch — a low spot will just collect rainwater, which may turn your patch into next year’s pothole location instead of a durable repair.

Here’s a patch just after flattening:

SET IT & FORGET IT

The asphalt patch products firm up fairly quickly.  Once you’ve filled the holes to your satisfaction, you can just leave them & go home.  Here are some I did a couple of weeks ago — they’re already starting to blend in with the surrounding pavement:

Here are some patches from 2009 that still look great:

IN CONCLUSION

Since we know that Worcester would rather replace perfectly legible street name signs than fill potholes, this issue will be of perennial concern to us.  If you’re tired of waiting for a road repair, or if you’re one of the poor souls on a private street who are ignored by the city, feel free to take matters into your own hands.  For about $10-$15 you can fill a medium-sized pothole on your own.  Even a huge pothole like this one only costs about $40 to fill :

This pothole was about 5 feet long.

It’d be nice if our tax dollars took care of this for us, but the brain trust of Worcester have an OCD need to get hearts & serifs on our street signs, and that seems to be a much higher priority than potholes.  We may have cratered street surfaces that rival the moon, but hey — the moon ain’t got no signs with dingbats & Times New Roman on ’em.  So, there.