Drought Has Been Hard on the Roads
This worst single-year drought in Texas history is affecting the roads.
Last weekend’s rain was just a drop in the bucket for the parched soil in Central Texas. But every little drop counts, says Chris Bishop with the Texas Department of Transportation’s Austin District.
The dry spell has sucked all the moisture out of Central Texas’s topsoil. And that’s caused cracks to form and bumps to pop up.
As soil alongside the pavement heats up, moisture evaporates, and the soil then begins to compress. That can bend the edges of roads, and cause the asphalt to break.
Bishop says this type of road damage happens all the time, but this year it’s significantly worse.
“Especially where there’s clay soil, the highways can contract and compact as it dries out,” Bishop said. “And that means cracks may appear in the pavement, or a section of the base under a road, may fall away, may slump a bit.”
Bishop says TxDOT generally waits to do repairs until the weather is cooler and the cracks have reached their maximum size. The recent rains could even help by allowing the soil underneath roads to re-expand.
But some of the road damage is already affecting drivers and needs to be fixed more urgently.
“At a culvert or a bridge, regardless of the size, sometimes the drought will cause the road to slump right there, so you have a hard bump, maybe even a hard edge, getting onto the bridge or culvert section,” Bishop said. “That can be hard on the tires, so as soon as we hear about one of those, or we see one of those, we get a crew out to work on those immediately.”
Timing for repairs is tricky, because water expands when it freezes, and that can cause the asphalt to break even further.
And it’s not just state highways that are affected by the drought. Carolyn Perez with the Austin’s Department of Public Works says her office received lots of community requests this summer to fix dips or depressions in roads. And she says her office is doing its best to respond.
“We realize that we are in the middle of what could be a long-term drought that doesn’t show any signs of abating,” Perez said. “The recent rain that we’ve had has not relieved it. And our engineers are always looking for solutions to this.”
Neither TxDOT nor the city has been able to estimate the costs of drought-related road damage so far. But both agree on one thing: they need long-range plans to deal with them.