Taking the holey road: These states and metros are most concerned with potholes

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We’ve all been there: You’re driving peacefully down the road when, wha-BUMP — you hit a pothole, and repair bills start dancing before your eyes.

Sometimes, it all works out OK; a walk-around reveals no visible damage, and your car chugs along fine. But potholes can cause significant vehicle damage, from your wheels and tires to your suspension and steering systems.

The newest LendingTree study analyzes Google Trends data over the past five years to see which states and metros have potholes (and perhaps their potential damage) on the brain. We also look at acceptable road condition data to highlight which states are — and aren’t — taking related action.

  • Vermont residents are most interested in potholes. According to a LendingTree analysis of Google Trends data from the past five years, Green Mountain State residents top the nation in pothole-related search interest, followed by Rhode Island and Washington. Meanwhile, Nevada, Alabama and Arizona residents have the least interest in searching about these roadway holes.
  • 2 Washington metros — Yakima and Spokane — often have potholes on the mind. Over the past five years, these two Washington metros had the most pothole-related search interest, followed by Omaha, Neb.
  • A new year brings new (pothole) challenges. Americans are most interested in potholes in March, February and April, respectively. They’re least interested in the last quarter of the year (yes, that’s now), but government budgets to pay to fix those potholes are being approved across the country.
  • The percentage of roads in acceptable condition jumped in 33 states. Oklahoma (19.3 percentage points), California (10.7) and South Carolina (10.1) saw the biggest increases in smooth-riding roadways between 2016 and 2020 — the latest data available. Meanwhile, the states that saw the biggest percentage point dips because of their not-so-smooth roadways were Texas (11.8), Michigan (10.8) and Arizona (8.3).

Understanding Google Trends data (and how we used it)

LendingTree used Google Trends data to draw the pothole conclusions in this study. Google Trends tracks interest in particular search terms on a scale from 0 (worst) to 100 (best), using a number of mechanisms to normalize the data and make comparisons easier.

For example, Google says each data point is “divided by the total searches of the geography and time range it represents” to compare relative popularity. That means the places with the highest search volume aren’t always ranked the highest in terms of search interest.

We looked at state- and metro-level searches in the five years between Oct. 23, 2018, and Oct. 23, 2023. At the state level, we evaluated four terms: “pothole,” “potholes,” “pothole damage” and “pothole repair.” (All states had data for the first two terms, but the latter two terms’ data was only included when available.)

At the metro level, we evaluated only the terms “pothole” and “potholes” during the same period. Our averages were drawn using Google’s 0-to-100 range.

Vermonters showed the most interest in potholes in the five years we analyzed. The Green Mountain State is followed by a fellow Northeastern state, Rhode Island, and way-out-west Washington.

Vermont, via VTransparency, offers residents an advanced look at planned construction projects over the next two years. Its long, harsh winters — which can cause road damage and delay repairs — may add to Vermonters’ preoccupation with potholes. Climate change, according to the 2021 Vermont Climate Assessment from the University of Vermont, is contributing to these problems, too. High streamflows — a measure of water flow in streams or rivers — are increasing flood risks and causing damage to roads in the state.

Rhode Island, despite its small size, has something of a reputation for its potholes. A 2022 Providence Journal headline suggested the state might be “the pothole capital of the United States.” And potholes have become more costly to the state’s Department of Transportation over time: A May 2022 report from NBC 10 WJAR in Providence found pothole claims more than doubled in the first two months that year compared to 2021 in its entirety.

Washington state, though less frigid, has its fair share of rain, which can contribute to road damage. The state is home to the two U.S. metros with potholes the most on their mind — more on that later.

Average Google Trends search interest value by state

Rank State Average search interest value
1 Vermont 83.0
2 Rhode Island 67.7
3 Washington 66.0
4 Minnesota 62.3
5 Indiana 60.3
6 Michigan 57.8
7 Nebraska 57.7
8 Tennessee 56.5
9 North Dakota 54.5
10 Pennsylvania 52.3
11 New Jersey 52.0
12 Maryland 51.8
13 Missouri 50.3
14 New York 50.0
15 California 49.8
16 Illinois 49.3
17 South Carolina 49.0
18 Georgia 47.3
19 Virginia 45.8
20 Massachusetts 45.7
21 Wisconsin 42.0
22 Colorado 41.0
23 Ohio 40.3
24 Hawaii 39.0
25 West Virginia 38.5
26 South Dakota 37.5
27 Iowa 36.5
28 Oregon 34.5
29 Mississippi 34.0
30 Alaska 33.5
30 Kansas 33.5
32 Kentucky 32.7
33 District of Columbia 31.5
34 Florida 31.3
35 Texas 30.8
36 Maine 30.0
37 Louisiana 29.5
38 Montana 29.0
38 Oklahoma 29.0
40 Connecticut 28.7
41 Utah 28.5
42 New Hampshire 27.5
43 Idaho 26.0
43 North Carolina 26.0
45 New Mexico 24.5
45 Wyoming 24.5
47 Arkansas 23.5
47 Delaware 23.5
49 Arizona 23.0
50 Alabama 22.5
51 Nevada 19.5

Source: LendingTree analysis of Google Trends search data. Notes: The terms “pothole” and “potholes” were evaluated across the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The terms “pothole damage” and “pothole repair” were also evaluated when there was relevant search volume in a state. This covers the period from Oct. 23, 2018, through Oct. 23, 2023. The Google Trends data is based on a 0-to-100 index.

Meanwhile, residents of Nevada, Alabama and Arizona seem less concerned about potholes, based on their Google searches. Nevada, in particular, has the lowest interest in potholes in our study.

As the American Public Works Association puts it, the failures that result in potholes always involve both water and traffic — neither of which Nevada, a state mostly covered by the Great Basin Desert, sees in great amounts. This may also explain why states like Arizona and New Mexico rank low, though some damper climates, like Alabama and Delaware, are also represented.

Does car insurance cover pothole damage?

Car insurance covers pothole damage if you have optional collision coverage, LendingTree auto insurance expert and licensed insurance agent Rob Bhatt says.

However, because insurance companies usually drive up a claimant’s premiums after a loss — applying what they call a surcharge, Bhatt explains — “you don’t want to file an insurance claim if the costs of repairing pothole damage are less than your deductible, or if they’re just a little more than your deductible.” Rather, it would make more sense under those circumstances to pay for the damage out of pocket.

If the damage is significant, however, filing a claim may be worthwhile, surcharge or not. If you must, pull over and photograph the damage and the pothole immediately, and take note of the pothole’s location. The insurance company will need this information to process the claim.

While Washington ranks third-highest at the state level, two of its metros rank the highest in pothole interest: Yakima and Spokane.

With nearly 600,000 residents, Spokane is the second-largest metro in the state behind Seattle, so it makes sense that its relatively high traffic density might result in potholes. The Washington metro ranked fourth in an earlier 2023 study from QuoteWizard by LendingTree on this topic, exemplifying 2023’s role in its new ranking. Meanwhile, Yakima was fifth in QuoteWizard’s report earlier this year. The city has a snappily named Yak Back feature where residents can report potholes.

Omaha, Neb., ranks third on the list. The Omaha World-Herald reported the city had logged more than 5,900 pothole complaints for the year before March 2023.

Almost all the metros toward the top of the list have both cold and wet climates, which makes sense since freezing can contribute to pothole formation.

Average Google Trends search interest value by metro

Rank Metro Average search interest value
1 Yakima, WA 71.0
2 Spokane, WA 69.5
3 Omaha, NE 57.0
4 Duluth, MN 56.5
5 Indianapolis, IN 52.0
6 Wilkes-Barre, PA 51.0
7 Minneapolis, MN 46.5
8 Burlington, VT 45.5
9 Seattle, WA 44.5
10 Lansing, MI 44.0
11 Jackson, MS 41.0
12 Grand Rapids, MI 40.5
13 Fargo, ND 40.0
13 Lafayette, IN 40.0
15 Kansas City, MO 39.5
15 Springfield, MA 39.5
17 Rockford, IL 39.0
18 Detroit, MI 38.0
18 Providence, RI 38.0
20 Green Bay, WI 37.0
21 Charleston, SC 36.5
22 Columbia, SC 36.0
22 Flint, MI 36.0
22 La Crosse, WI 36.0
25 Topeka, KS 35.0
26 Memphis, TN 34.5
26 Traverse City, MI 34.5
28 Milwaukee, WI 33.5
28 Sioux Falls, SD 33.5
30 Des Moines, IA 33.0
30 Nashville, TN 33.0
32 Madison, WI 32.5
32 Peoria, IL 32.5
32 Pittsburgh, PA 32.5
32 Portland, OR 32.5
36 Honolulu, HI 32.0
37 Anchorage, AK 31.5
38 Colorado Springs, CO 31.0
38 Rochester, NY 31.0
40 Albany, NY 30.5
40 Rochester, MN 30.5
42 Greenville, SC 29.5
42 New Orleans, LA 29.5
44 Fresno, CA 29.0
44 Wheeling, WV 29.0
46 Boston, MA 28.5
46 Buffalo, NY 28.5
46 Chicago, IL 28.5
46 Columbus, OH 28.5
46 Louisville, KY 28.5
46 Monterey, CA 28.5
46 Reno, NV 28.5
46 San Francisco, CA 28.5
54 Denver, CO 28.0
54 Richmond, VA 28.0
54 San Diego, CA 28.0
54 Tucson, AZ 28.0
58 Charleston, WV 27.5
58 Philadelphia, PA 27.5
60 Idaho Falls, ID 27.0
60 Oklahoma City, OK 27.0
60 South Bend, IN 27.0
63 Cedar Rapids, IA 26.5
64 Florence, SC 26.0
64 Los Angeles, CA 26.0
64 New York, NY 26.0
64 Portland, ME 26.0
64 Sacramento, CA 26.0
69 Corpus Christi, TX 25.5
69 Toledo, OH 25.5
69 Youngstown, OH 25.5
72 Atlanta, GA 25.0
72 Baltimore, MD 25.0
74 Charlotte, NC 24.5
74 Davenport, IA 24.5
74 Knoxville, TN 24.5
74 Lincoln, NE 24.5
78 Baton Rouge, LA 24.0
78 Champaign, IL 24.0
78 Cincinnati, OH 24.0
78 Johnstown, PA 24.0
78 Sioux City, IA 24.0
78 St. Louis, MO 24.0
78 Washington, DC 24.0
85 Bangor, ME 23.5
85 Cleveland, OH 23.5
87 Raleigh, NC 23.0
88 Hartford, CT 22.5
88 Norfolk, VA 22.5
88 Tulsa, OK 22.5
91 Dayton, OH 22.0
91 Salt Lake City, UT 22.0
93 Chattanooga, TN 21.5
93 Harrisburg, PA 21.5
93 Lexington, KY 21.5
96 Little Rock, AR 21.0
96 Syracuse, NY 21.0
98 San Antonio, TX 20.5
99 Albuquerque, NM 20.0
99 Birmingham, AL 20.0
99 Huntsville, AL 20.0
99 Odessa, TX 20.0
99 Savannah, GA 20.0

Source: LendingTree analysis of Google Trends search data. Notes: The terms “pothole” and “potholes” were evaluated across each metro. Notes: We’re displaying only the 100 metros with the largest average search interest value. This covers the period from Oct. 23, 2018, through Oct. 23, 2023. The Google Trends data is based on a 0-to-100 index.

New year, new you — new road damage worries. Our analysis shows that search interest in pothole-related terms tends to spike early in the year: The greatest search interest is in March, followed by February and April.

Again, this tracks since freezing and thawing cycles — common in late winter and early spring — can contribute to pothole formation. Salting the roads, while an important safety measure, can add to the problem, too.

Average Google Trends search interest value by month

Month Average search interest value
January 780.0
February 904.0
March 1,020.0
April 844.3
May 759.0
June 655.8
July 600.5
August 557.3
September 517.3
October 481.3
November 409.8
December 520.5

Source: LendingTree analysis of Google Trends search data. Notes: The terms “pothole, “potholes,” “pothole damage” and “pothole repair” were evaluated across the U.S. Weekly averages were combined across the months from Oct. 23, 2018, through Oct. 23, 2023. This sum — based on a weekly 0-to-100 index — was then averaged across the four terms for an average value by month.

Meanwhile, pothole-related searches plummet in late summer and fall: Interest is lowest in November, followed by October and September. Still, this is an important time of year for those interested in potholes, as government budgets for 2024 repair projects are being finalized.

For this section, LendingTree analysts added the weekly interest across all four search terms for each month, taking five years into account. We then averaged the figures across the search terms to calculate a monthly total.

Despite high interest in potholes among searchers, the percentage of roads in “acceptable” condition increased in 33 states between 2016 and 2020 — the latest data available. (For this, LendingTree researchers analyzed road conditions from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, which catalogs the roughness of hundreds of thousands of miles of American roadway.)

Oklahoma leads the way, with its percentage of roads in acceptable condition jumping 19.3 percentage points from 74.4% in 2016 to 93.7% in 2020. (The state has many more road and bridge repair projects planned through 2027.)

Runners-up include California and South Carolina, where the percentage of acceptable roads rose 10.7 and 10.1 percentage points, respectively.

Change in acceptable road conditions by state

Rank State % of roads in acceptable condition, 2016 % of roads in acceptable condition, 2020 Percentage point difference in % of acceptable roads between 2016 and 2020
N/A U.S. 78.6% 81.0% 2.3
1 Oklahoma 74.4% 93.7% 19.3
2 California 56.4% 67.0% 10.7
3 South Carolina 81.4% 91.5% 10.1
4 Virginia 78.7% 86.8% 8.1
5 New Hampshire 74.5% 82.4% 7.9
6 Vermont 74.4% 80.7% 6.4
7 Wisconsin 68.9% 74.8% 5.9
8 Maine 74.2% 79.3% 5.1
9 Massachusetts 67.6% 72.5% 4.8
10 Rhode Island 47.4% 51.9% 4.5
10 Alabama 86.4% 90.9% 4.5
12 Alaska 76.7% 80.9% 4.1
12 Mississippi 69.8% 73.9% 4.1
14 Arkansas 88.3% 92.0% 3.8
15 South Dakota 82.7% 86.3% 3.6
15 New Jersey 51.6% 55.2% 3.6
17 Louisiana 73.9% 77.0% 3.1
18 Pennsylvania 69.5% 72.4% 2.9
19 North Carolina 86.7% 89.5% 2.8
20 Kentucky 89.9% 92.6% 2.7
21 Iowa 88.7% 91.1% 2.4
22 Colorado 76.3% 78.1% 1.9
23 Connecticut 65.2% 67.0% 1.8
23 New York 72.2% 74.0% 1.8
25 Delaware 82.6% 83.7% 1.2
26 Nebraska 91.8% 92.9% 1.1
27 Tennessee 93.6% 94.6% 1.0
27 District of Columbia 7.7% 8.6% 1.0
29 Wyoming 93.3% 94.3% 0.9
30 Washington 70.9% 71.5% 0.7
31 Oregon 88.0% 88.6% 0.6
32 Minnesota 90.2% 90.7% 0.5
33 Hawaii 59.6% 60.0% 0.4
34 Missouri 75.9% 75.6% -0.2
35 Montana 88.3% 87.3% -1.0
36 Kansas 89.7% 88.6% -1.2
37 Illinois 81.7% 80.2% -1.5
37 Nevada 87.1% 85.7% -1.5
39 Ohio 85.4% 83.7% -1.7
40 Utah 81.8% 80.0% -1.8
41 Florida 90.0% 87.7% -2.3
42 Maryland 75.3% 72.3% -3.0
43 North Dakota 97.2% 94.1% -3.1
44 Georgia 96.5% 92.8% -3.6
45 New Mexico 70.7% 66.0% -4.7
46 Idaho 95.3% 90.2% -5.1
47 Indiana 87.0% 81.8% -5.2
48 West Virginia 74.1% 68.7% -5.4
49 Arizona 85.8% 77.5% -8.3
50 Michigan 89.4% 78.6% -10.8
51 Texas 89.4% 77.6% -11.8

Source: LendingTree analysis of Bureau of Transportation Statistics data. Note: Differences are displayed with one decimal point, though unrounded numbers were used for calculations.

Meanwhile, states like Texas, Michigan and Arizona languish at the bottom of the list: Instead of seeing improvements in road acceptability, their roads are in active decline. In Texas, acceptable roads dropped 11.8 percentage points, from 89.4% in 2016 to 77.6% in 2020. In Michigan and Arizona, acceptable roads dropped 10.8 and 8.3 percentage points, respectively.

Acceptable roads offer a smoother ride — which generally means fewer potholes. Keeping roads in good repair and taking preventive measures, like sealing the pavement, can help keep potholes from forming in the first place (and cost less for city governments in the long run).

According to an AAA study from 2016, pothole-related damage cost American drivers $15 billion in repair bills over a period of five years. That’s $3 billion a year, all because of bumps in the road.

“If you hit a pothole hard enough, it can damage a tire, wheel or rim,” Bhatt says. “In more severe cases, your vehicle’s alignment or suspension can be affected.”

In any event, pothole damage can be costly: While you may find cheap tires for as little as $50 apiece, rims can cost between $200 and $500 a wheel, according to J.D. Power. Substantially repairing your suspension system could set you back as much as $5,000.

Fortunately, safe driving can decrease your chances of getting caught by a pothole or another road-related obstacle, particularly in winter weather. Here are some savvy seasonal driving tips:

  • Pay attention. While attentive driving can be literally lifesaving year-round, it’s even more critical during the winter months, when black ice can wreak unexpected havoc. Importantly, staying aware can help you avoid potholes when you see them early enough to drive around them. “Whenever you drive, make sure to continuously keep an eye out for potential hazards in front of you, including potholes,” Bhatt says, “while also being aware of vehicles around you.” You don’t want to swerve out of the way of an obstacle right into a fellow driver’s path.
  • Go easy on the brakes. Whether it’s a pothole or a slick, icy section of highway, slamming on the brakes is almost never the right option. During winter weather, you should both accelerate and brake smoothly and gradually to avoid losing traction, skidding and potentially enduring even more damage.
  • Slow down — especially when it’s wet or wintery. “You may be able to talk yourself out of a speeding ticket,” Bhatt says, “but you can’t defy the laws of physics.” When you drive more slowly, you give yourself more time to react to traffic scenarios and unforeseen obstacles, not to mention the space you need to brake slowly, as discussed. This may mean saving more time in the morning for your commute, so adjust your alarm clock as needed.
  • Consider investing in snow tires. If you live in a frigid locale, snow tires can make a difference — and, in some areas, may be required by law. Designed to increase traction, snow tires can help you stay safe even during the coldest times of the year. If you change them out come summer, you should be able to get at least four or five seasons out of them.

LendingTree researchers analyzed Google Trends search data on pothole-related terms. We examined the five years from Oct. 23, 2018, through Oct. 23, 2023. Google Trends shows interest for a search term on a scale of 0 to 100, with 0 being the worst and 100 being the best.

For states, researchers evaluated:

  • “pothole”
  • “potholes”
  • “pothole damage”
  • “pothole repair”

For metros, just “pothole” and “potholes” were used.

For our monthly analysis, we averaged Google’s weekly index scores across the months between Oct. 23, 2018, and Oct. 23, 2023, for the four search terms.

Researchers also analyzed Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) road condition data. We calculated percentage point differences in the rate of roads in acceptable condition between 2016 and 2020 — the latest available.

Source

This article originally appeared on LendingTree and was syndicated by MediaFeed.

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This article originally appeared on LendingTree and was syndicated by MediaFeed.

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