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Roads in Finland torn apart by wet spring thaw - "worst in 20 years"

Warming temperatures over the past few weeks have caused more extensive damage to road surfaces than has been seen in two decades.

Liejuinen tie.
Image: Toni Pitkänen / Yle

Motorists are being warned of increasingly poor driving conditions, especially on secondary roads, in areas from the south coast up into Lapland.

According to the head of the Finnish Transport Agency's maintenance unit, Tuomas Toivonen, the only part of the country that has been spared the worst thaw damage of the past 20 years is along the west coast. In Lapland, thaw damage is just starting to appear as temperatures rise.

Roadways have been thawing rapidly but not drying out. Runoff from melting snow and ice then undermines the integrity of surface materials, especially on gravel roads in rural areas.

"In addition, last autumn was rainy and when the freeze came, everyplace was full of water. Sub-zero temperatures were not very extreme, so there was a bit of frost over a long time. So, as they froze, road structures absorbed more water from below, creating thick, strong layers of ice," Tuomas Toivonen explains.

Weight restrictions

The Transport Agency is keeping a close watch on spring road conditions, but it does not have enough crews to carry out all the needed repairs.

"There are 27,000 kilometres of unpaved gravel roads, and now there are weight restrictions in force on 4,000 kilometres of those. More gravel is being spread on the worst spots to enable passenger car traffic," says Toivonen.

Weight restrictions can be expected to be seen posted on more stretches of road as the spring progresses.

The thaw is also causing problems on paved roads in places where the surface pavements have worn thin and water has seeped into the roadbed.

The Transport Agency has opened a special phone number for the public to report thaw damage. According to Tuomas Toivonen, the number 0200 2100, has been getting "an awful lot" of calls.

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