- The Washington Times - Friday, December 20, 2002

Pothole season has yet to begin, transportation officials said, even as road crews patch metropolitan area highways in the aftermath of snow- and freezing-rain storms.
A Dec. 5 storm dumped up to 8 inches of snow here, a Dec. 11 storm delivered an inch of freezing rain, and temperatures often have dipped below freezing this month the perfect conditions for potholes to form.
"It's all a function of the freeze-and-thaw cycle. The more freeze-and-thaw episodes we have, the more opportunity there is for potholes to develop," said Bruce Williams, spokesman for the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT).
County governments are responsible for maintenance of all roads except state highways.
Crews responsible for the Capital Beltway, Interstates 66, 95, 295 and 395, and other major roadways have been able to patch potholes quickly by using a cold mix of asphalt that is, in most cases, a temporary measure.
When making permanent repairs, crews square out holes in the road surface with a jackhammer and fill them with a hot asphalt mix a more costly procedure, in terms of time and money, compared with the temporary patches.
The hot mix bonds better to the pavement and can be compacted better, but only at the right temperatures about 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Cold weather cools the mix too quickly.
"Given what the temperatures are right now, it doesn't make sense to put down something permanent," said Dave Buck, spokesman for the Maryland State Highway Administration (MSHA). "You need warmer temperatures."
That could make for a rough time on the roads, as temporary patches break up and new potholes form over the winter. Spring's warmer temperatures usually spark an outbreak of potholes.
"You're going to see this develop over the winter. The temporary patches get kicked out, and the holes get bigger and bigger," said Dave Russ, traffic reporter for WTOP Radio.
The weather determines whether potholes will proliferate, and weather experts say the area will have a severe winter.
National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Halpert said he doesn't think that the area will see anywhere near as much snow as it did during the winter of 1994-95, when the Ronald Reagan National Airport reported 46 inches of snow. But 15 to 20 inches of snow wouldn't be a surprise, he said.
VDOT's Northern Virginia District office, which covers Loudoun, Fairfax, Prince William and Arlington counties, maintains 15,000 lane miles of roads with about 300 employees and a $118 million budget, Mr. Williams said. It has more than 1,500 pieces of equipment, and four to seven six-worker crews patrol for potholes each day.
Virginia has allocated $48 million for statewide snow-removal costs, such as private snow-plow contractors and supplies, Mr. Williams said.
MSHA's District Three office, which includes Montgomery and Prince George's counties, maintains 2,863 lane miles with 228 maintenance personnel, 175 of whom work on pothole patching. MSHA has allocated $500,000 for repairing potholes in non-winter months.
"Anything that's storm- or winter-related goes into the winter budget," Mr. Buck said.
The winter budget, which covers snow plowing, salting, fixing potholes, tree cutting and sign maintenance, was $4.2 million in fiscal 2002, he said.

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