Towson Using Laser Technology To Identify Potholes


Credit: Erica Palmisano

The Baltimore County Bureau of Highways has a new strategy to identify the worst potholes in their service region: Lasers! The bureau plans to scan thousands of roads across the county with 3D laser technology.

There are over 8,000 roads in Baltimore County, and many of these roads frequently fall into disrepair. From York Road’s frequently heavy traffic, to the backroads connecting communities across the county we all know that potholes and other road issues are a daily struggle.

The new lidar system is mounted to the back of a van, which will drive around the county and create a map which rates roads from 1-100 based on their Paving Condition Index or PCI. ​Tony Russell, acting deputy of the BCBH says this will provide much more data than the bureau has ever had before. “It actually maps the roadway, it tells you the depth of the road, it'll pick up any cracks and imperfections in the road, it picks up, you know, the ride ability of the road. And, of course, it does pick up various potholes.”

Baltimore County is not the first service region in Maryland to adopt this technology, it is already being used by Montgomery County, Carroll County, the City of Frederick, the City of Tacoma Park and the City of Gaithersburg. One of the main advantages of radar mapping is that it allows for very targeted repairs rather than repaving entire roads. The Bureau of Highways hopes that more accurate targeting will mean lower costs in the future. “If it's a mile road, 20% of it is in bad shape. Right? This is going to narrow that 20% down and show you exactly where that road is in bad shape, and where we need to spend the money.”

Asphalt is an inherently tough material, and roads are designed to last years before they need significant repair. Road damage is typically the culmination of a variety of causes including traffic, which can cause cracks over time. Water can seep into those cracks and degrade the base layer of a road which leads to depressions, and eventually, potholes. The ability to identify and repair depressions before they necessitate the repaving the road is a big change for the Bureau of Highways, and according to Russel, “that's where the cost saving comes in.”

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