Kansas City pilot program to predict potholes before they create a nuisance for drivers

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- What if road crews were able to figure out where the next pothole was going to pop up and fix it before it happened? Kansas City is set to launch a new pilot program to predict potholes, partnering Public Works with the Smart City Initiative.

As drivers make their way through downtown Kansas City, data analysts using street level sensors already know a whole lot about what’s happening in real-time.

“The lights are green in between 9th and 12th," Kansas City Chief Innovation Officer Bob Bennett said while watching the data stream.

But now the Smart City Initiative that grew up around the KC Streetcar is about to take its next big leap into actually predicting the future, and one of the issues that cause Kansas City drivers the biggest headaches.

“Coming down Ward Parkway I hit a massive hole and I hit it so hard that the sidewall and belt slipped and I had to replace all four tires, and it cost me close to $2,000," Nathan Millett said.

“They got to find someone or some kind of system to fill the potholes correctly, because obviously what they are doing is not working and it’s tearing up a lot of folks cars,” a driver who identified himself as "Wolf" said.

Kansas City's pothole prediction system is based on the premise that most potholes form about 77 days after the first thaw when frozen water expands. The city plans to use data it’s already collecting to know exactly when and where the next pothole will form.

“When you combine the type of traffic the amount of traffic the road construction materials itself, current condition of the road, plus the weather, you now come up with an algorithm where you can predict the most likely locations for potholes,” Bennett said.

They ran the formula for prior years and the program successfully predicted 88 percent of all potholes.

According to Bennett, potholes typically cost about $900 to fill with a mixture that usually only lasts a year or two. The city plans to run underground radar to confirm their predictions before they begin repairs they hope will last for decades.

“You actually save money if you can validate that a pothole is likely given the conditions on that road, and repair it using standard road building materials instead of emergency repairs that don’t have as long of a lifespan," said Bennett.

The pilot program will focus on six streets that have yet to be announced. But if all goes well the first year, it would likely then go city-wide.