Pothole Patching Efforts Intensify in KCK

Published on January 31, 2024

A team of people patching a pothole on a street.

Pothole season has arrived! With a break from the snow, ice, and rain, Public Works’ Street Maintenance team is ramping up their efforts to combat the ever-present issues of potholes. Beginning this week, crews will work extended 12-hour shifts on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays to focus on patching potholes, a process that will continue as long as necessary.

The decision to pause patching on Mondays and Fridays is strategic; the asphalt plants, crucial for the hot patching method used in Kansas City, Kansas, are closed for maintenance on these days. The hot patching method, while requiring specific conditions, is known for its long-lasting repairs, making it a preferred approach despite the scheduling constraints.

“As long as there are paved roadways, there will also be potholes. Winter weather is especially tough on roads. Moisture from snow events seeps into pavement, freezes, and then expands,” said Dewayne Smith, Street Manager. “The expansion of moisture inside and under the road causes the pavement to break apart and form a pothole.”

Similar to snow removal operations, heavy traffic areas will be patched first. This includes major roads like State Avenue and Quindaro. Once these streets are patched, crews will move into secondary streets. Secondary streets connect neighborhoods to major roads. Finally, teams will work their way into neighborhoods.

Last year, crews patched 37,108 potholes, marking a 24% increase from the previous year. This significant rise in patched potholes is attributed partly to efficiency gains from new equipment, but it also reflects the concerning decline in the city’s Pavement Condition Index (PCI).

The Unified Government regularly collects pavement condition data for all local roads, updating the PCI every four years. This index, which scales from 0 (poor or failed) to 100 (brand new), has revealed a worrying trend: Kansas City’s PCI has fallen from 56 in 2018 to 51 in the current year. As the PCI declines, the likelihood of potholes, street edge damage, and rough road conditions increases.

To tackle this growing challenge, Public Works has been proactive in adding several new patchers and a cracking sealing machine to its fleet in recent years.

As the PCI continues to decline, the likelihood of more frequent and severe potholes grows. The introduction of efficient equipment like a spray patcher and the dedication of the Public Works’ Street Maintenance team are integral to the city’s wider strategic efforts to improve roadway conditions. To learn more about this broader strategic effort to improve street conditions and increase PCI, view or download the Infrastructure Outcomes & Strategies document adopted by resolution.

Residents are encouraged to report potholes by calling 3-1-1 or visiting mywyco.wycokck.org.

Please remember to exercise caution and provide plenty of space for crews to work safely when encountering patching operations on the road.

Learn more about potholes and patching:

How do Potholes Form?

As long as there are paved roadways, there will also be potholes. Despite popular misconceptions, potholes can form at any time throughout the year:

  • Winter weather is especially tough on roads. Moisture from snow and ice seeps into pavement, freezes, and then expands. When the expanded pavement thaws out, it contracts and leaves gaps in the surface underneath.
  • The summer is equally hard on roads. Heat from the sun causes pavement to expand and water can seep through the cracks that form. As streets cool overnight, the pavement contracts and leaves behind gaps in the surface underneath.
  • As vehicles travel over these gaps, the asphalt begins to break apart, leaving behind a pothole

For a visual example of how a pothole forms, check out this graphic:An infographic showing how potholes form on streets

How Are Potholes Prioritized for Patching?

When it comes to pothole patching, teams prioritize areas with high concentrations of potholes and high traffic volumes. Other factors matter as well, but high traffic volume is the primary driver. Some of the other factors are:

  • Severity - Dependent on size, depth, and location on the road surface.
  • Proximity - Work is assigned to crews based on location of other similar work to allow for efficient routing throughout the day.
  • Weather and other contributing factors, like closures, may cause different prioritization of repairs.

How Are Potholes Fixed?

In Kansas City, Kansas, Public Works’ Street Maintenance team uses the city’s Hot Patchers, Spray Patcher, and the traditional “Throw and Roll” cold patching methods.

Photograph of a With onboard attachments like a jackhammer and tack oil application wand, the Hot Patchers allow team members to apply long-lasting and more uniform repairs to road surfaces. While this process is initially slower than the "throw and roll," repairs last much longer – in some cases until the next overlay or rebuild. Over time, the need to patch the same hole time and time again diminishes significantly. Team members do still occasionally use older patching methods to get material in troublesome holes and buy time until the Hot Patchers or surface treatments are available.

Photograph of a spray pothole patcher patching a hole in Kansas City, Kansas Unlike the city's Hot Patchers, the LeeBoy® Spray Pothole Patcher is operated by a single team member using a "Patch-on-the-Go" spray injection system. In some cases, the new vehicle can patch potholes in as little as two minutes. Unique to this model is an extendable hydraulic boom that allows operators a wide working range for patching from side to side. The boom draws material from an onboard kettle that can heat, mix, and hold up to 11,000 pounds of material. Potholes are patched by a driver-operated in-cab joystick that performs a four-step injection process via the hydraulic boom:

  • Clean – The operator uses a high-volume blower to clear the pothole of debris and moisture
  • Tack – The operator sprays a tack coat on the pothole’s interior
  • Fill – The operator sprays a mixture of emulsion and aggregate into the pothole
  • Finish – The operator sprays a finishing coat of dry aggregate on the surface

In the hands of a skilled operator, the new Spray Patcher can cover large areas and patch up to 200 potholes daily.

Photograph of a crew using a mobile crack sealer to fill gaps in street pavementPublic Works also uses a Crack Sealing Machine to help keep streets healthy. Pavement expands and contracts as it cools and warms throughout the year. In some cases, this can cause cracks to appear on the streets. If these cracks are not addressed quickly, they allow moisture to sneak into the road’s surface and ultimately decrease the road’s overall lifespan. The new Crack Sealer allows teams to apply repairs quickly and efficiently, which aids Public Works significantly in their effort to stretch limited dollars further and keep roads healthier, longer. Unique to this model is its onboard and completely self-contained Asphalt Crack Sealing Kettle, which makes it capable of heating, melting, and applying all grades of rubberized asphalt crack sealer, joint sealants, and waterproofing compounds without the need for additional equipment.

Are Potholes Proactively Addressed?

Yes - crews take a proactive approach to patching, so they are always on the lookout for new potholes. Unfortunately, they don’t spot them all. You can help crews tackle potholes by calling 3-1-1 or visiting mywyco.wycokck.org.