- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 1, 2000

Washington-area residents who have braved snow-slickened roads recently may welcome warmer weather, but higher temperatures likely will aggravate another headache on the streets: potholes.

The District of Columbia is notorious for slow repairs to potholes, but D.C. officials are promising quicker responses this year.

Director of Public Works Vanessa Dale Burns, who took over the department last summer, implemented a winter-management program in early January. Five inspectors began roaming the city streets today searching for storm-related damage.

"With streets that continue to be [the victims of]20 years of neglect, yes, there are going to be potholes," said Department of Public Works spokeswoman Linda Grant. "What is new this year is Director Burns. It is proactive rather than reactive," she said.

Another set of inspectors is continuing to monitor the cuts and patches all across the city caused by the installation of utilities and fiber-optic cables. Most such patches have only thin layers of asphalt covering them. Mrs. Grant said the utility companies will be called to fix patches and make permanent repairs.

Potholes form when water seeps through street cracks into the base material under pavement and freezes, expanding and pushing the particles of the base along with it. When the ice melts, a void is left under the pavement, and, as traffic runs over the spot, cracks form in the pavement, letting still more water seep in. Eventually the pavement crumbles.

Forecasters are predicting warmer and drier weather for the rest of the week, melting the mounds of snow now sitting on the side of the roads and creating a river of runoff. Harsh winter weather generally means more potholes.

Temperatures in the mid- to upper 30s are expected through Thursday and could rise to between 45 and 50 degrees on Friday and Saturday.

Meanwhile, commuters on area highways yesterday faced other troublesome obstacles: huge chunks of airborne ice flying off vehicle roofs and crashing into other vehicles.

"It's a big problem," said Virginia State Police spokeswoman Lucy Caldwell. "A lot of people don't seem to be taking the time to clean it off and don't realize how dangerous it can be."

Flying ice caused damage to at least two vehicles in Virginia yesterday morning. A tractor-trailer was sidelined on the Capital Beltway in Fairfax with a broken windshield.

And a state trooper lost his side-view mirror a $140 loss because of loose ice on Interstate 66.

Maryland state troopers worked an incident at about 10:30 a.m. yesterday on Interstate 95 near Route 212. No injuries were reported.

"I hate to pick on trucks," said Sgt. Herman Bethel of the College Park barracks. "Most of it is coming off the bigger trucks. I guess the trucks are a little harder to clean off."

The ice, already frozen to the vehicle when the car is started, is most likely to fly off when the vehicle warms up.

"Nine times out of 10, the person is going to keep on going and not even realize it fell off their car," Mrs. Caldwell said.

Area police said there are no laws specifically requiring motorists to clean ice off the roofs and hoods of vehicles, but there are laws about having clear windshields, lights and license plates.

"It could be a civil liability for the person who loses the ice, but there's no criminal charge," said Maryland State Police spokesman Pete Piringer.

Insurance agencies said damage comes out of the collision policy if it is on the road or the comprehensive policy if it flies off another vehicle.

"We put it in as a storm loss," said Marlena Komer, a claims representative for Geico Insurance who works out of Fredericksburg, Va.

Ms. Komer said the agents have been working overtime because of all the storm-related problems, especially from the Southern states. She took about 60 calls a day and last week, more than half about damage caused by the storm.

Suggestions on avoiding a buildup of ice chunks include letting the car warm up for at least 15 minutes and brushing the ice and snow off all surfaces, including the hood and the roof.

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