- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 28, 2001

The bane of District of Columbia drivers is making its inevitable annual return.
The freeze-thaw-refreeze cycle of the past few weeks is opening up potholes in the city, jolting axles and jostling commuters.
But despite the perceived problem, city officials say there are far fewer of these annoyances than there were last year.
Drivers and residents reported 230 potholes in January, and officials expect a similar number once the calls in February are tallied. As a comparison, more than 1,000 complaints came in during February 2000.
"What we're seeing is a more modest pothole season this year than last year," said Dan Tangherlini, acting director of transportation.
A mild winter with few snowstorms helped. Mr. Tangherlini said the city also has budgeted more money for transportation needs and cracked down on utilities tearing up streets.
In 1996, for example, the city spent $54 million on repaving. That figure rose to $166 million last year and is expected to grow this year, Mr. Tangherlini said. The 600 blocks resurfaced last year is twice as many as during the previous five years combined.
City crews are responsible for filling potholes, but utility companies that excavate the roads to lay fiber-optic cable and private construction crews are required by law to pave over the cuts they make.
The D.C. Department of Public Works is supposed to inspect the contractors' work and enforce regulations and deadlines.
Temporary patches are supposed to be made as soon as a project is completed, and permanent patches are to be made within 45 days after a project has been started.
The city had trouble with compliance last year, but the District's willingness to follow through on threats to fine companies that violate regulations has solved the problem, Mr. Tangherlini said.
Still, most of the potholes out there on D.C. streets are along recent or older utility cuts, he said.
"Every year at this time you're going to have potholes," he said.
Transportation division spokesman Bill Rice said the District is getting more aggressive earlier this pothole season.
Five to six crews are out repairing potholes during the weekdays, and four to five crews are on duty on Saturdays. Seven worked yesterday. In the past, that sort of mobilization might not be seen until April.
"Normally you would work up this backlog demand that would crush us," Mr. Tangherlini said.
Also, a single-operator pothole-filling machine resembling a truck with a hose and chute is making emergency repairs. Reported potholes will be filled within 72 hours, officials said.
D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, on his monthly "Ask the Mayor" show on WTOP Radio (1500 AM) yesterday, said city workers have so far kept that pledge.
Workers are laying down a cold patch, an asphalt mixture with some plasticity typically used when the temperature is below 45 degrees. Hot patches, a more solid mix with a longer life span, will be used in the coming months.
Mr. Williams said a "massive rebuilding of our roads in our neighborhoods" is what the District really needs, complete with the building and rebuilding of sidewalks in areas where it is sometimes treacherous to walk.
Two major improvement projects are already under way. In early spring, the city plans to resurface South Capitol Street between the Southeast-Southwest Freeway and South Capitol Street Bridge. A total reworking of North Capitol Street north of Michigan Avenue is in the design stage.
Not everyone is satisfied with the pothole blitz.
"I've seen potholes all through the city," said Northwest resident Irvin Taylor, 69, who witnessed some up close in Adams Morgan yesterday. "I don't drive, but I've been in cars when someone hits a pothole and says something that is not repeatable."
Potholes are formed when concrete and asphalt are weakened by the freeze-thaw-refreeze cycle, with melting snow and rainwater seeping through cracks to break up the roadway from underneath.
The deterioration is accelerated by the chemicals and salt that road crews put down to help melt the snow.
"It's just one more challenge for motorists, and it can pose a real safety hazard," said Justin McNaull, a spokesman for AAA Potomac. "Congestion and [vehicles veering to avoid] potholes lead to accidents."
In Maryland, 27 state highway headquarters send out daily patrols to search for potholes and answer complaints, said David Buck, spokesman for Maryland's State Highway Administration. To report a pothole in Maryland, call 800/323-MSHA.
Joan Morris, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Transportation, said roving pothole repair crews are dispatched daily from 17 maintenance headquarters across Northern Virginia to scour highways and local roads.
"This is heavy-duty pothole repair time that we're going into," she said. "We especially want to know about any potholes on major roads."
Miss Morris encourages Virginia motorists to call 703/383-VDOT 24 hours a day to report potholes. She also asks for some patience, noting how frightening the work can be when tractor-trailers speed past during highway repairs.
The phone number for reporting potholes in the District is 202/727-1000.
Daniel F. Drummond contributed to this article.

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