- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 29, 2003

The pothole on Rock Creek Parkway didn’t look as nasty to Rich Daly as some of the others he encountered during a winter of driving and dodging in the District.
   Looks were deceiving, however. Mr. Daly a 29-year-old District resident, hit the hole it was so wide and deep that it flattened one of his tires and bent part of the wheel rim on his 1999 Saturn. It cost him $180 in repairs.
   Mr. Daly said that patching the holes doesn’t seem to be a priority for D.C. officials, despite their assertions of stepping up efforts to fix them. The situation became so bad in Mr. Daly’s Chevy Chase neighborhood that residents put orange cones around the deepest potholes to stop unsuspecting motorists from hitting them.
   “They have no problem giving you a hundred dollars’ worth of tickets on a street with all these potholes, but when it comes to filling those potholes, they won’t do it,” Mr. Daly said.
   Construction crews have added to the problem by posting streets to be paved with the emergency no-parking placards issued by the city and leaving. Some streets are posted for weeks before construction begins, forcing residents to unnecessarily park far from their homes and apartments.
   The problem is particularly bad in the Kalorama neighborhood of D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican and one of the authors of city legislation to exempt the mayor and council from most parking restrictions.
   Robert Marsili, chief of the District’s bridge and street maintenance division, said the city has, in most cases, kept its promise to patch potholes within three days of a reported sighting. He said that the city is receiving 25 to 30 reports each day, and that crews are patching 95 percent of those identified within the 72-hour time limit.
   Mr. Marsili also said the city is undertaking more pre-emptive projects to seal cracks and re-pave roads to ensure potholes don’t become too much of a problem.
   “We want to do this more often so that we’re not patching pothole on top of pothole,” Mr. Marsili said. “But we’ve got to take steps before we get ourselves in running mode.”
   Potholes develop after melted snow or rain seeps into cracks in and under roads. Low temperatures freeze the water, which expands and splits the pavement. The cracks get bigger as cars and trucks drive over the road, and eventually they form a pothole.
   Although potholes are bad news for Washington area drivers, they mean big business for car-repair specialists.
   Some tire-shop employees said they serviced almost twice the number of cars each day this past winter for pothole damage than they typically do. Potholes can puncture tires and bend wheel rims, or damage exhaust systems, suspensions or front ends.
   Richard Postell, 71, of Northeast spent three days and almost $200 having a tire and a wheel rim replaced on his daughter’s 1999 Mazda Millennium after she ran over a pothole.
   “Oh man, I had a time,” the retiree said of his efforts to have the car repaired. He went to four repair shops until he found one that sold the parts at a reasonable price. “I was getting ready to give up.”
   Mr. Postell said he appreciates the city’s effort to patch potholes, but he said this year’s heavy snow and rain made streets worse than usual. “When it’s time for them to fix it, they go out and fix it,” he said. “But they don’t repair anything in between.”
   Richard Smith, an employee at Hubcap Tom’s in Northeast, said the D.C. government is patching holes with a temporary mix of asphalt. He said his shop has reaped the benefits.
   “It’s like having a big gash on your arm, and the city puts a Band-Aid there when you need stitches,” he said.
   Mr. Smith said his shop fixes about 25 to 30 cars damaged by potholes each day during a typical winter. He said that number jumped to about 60 cars a day last winter.
   At Jimmy’s Tire Shop Inc. in Northeast, manager Rick Colburn said motorists sometimes get two flat tires because they drive over a pothole with the front and rear tires. “It got so difficult to find wheels, because everybody and their brothers wanted wheels,” he said.
   Lon Anderson, spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said the motor club received about 55,000, or 34 percent, more phone calls for roadside assistance in January and February than during the same months last year. Many motorists needed help towing their cars or changing a tire after driving over a pothole, he said.
   Local governments are stepping up efforts to curb the number of potholes because motorists don’t hesitate to voice their anger, Mr. Anderson said.
   “I’ve had enough upset people call me about problems like that to know that it’s not something your county council member or your D.C. Council member wants to hear from constituents,” he said.
   The D.C. Office of Corporation Counsel, which handles complaints about car damage, received 50 to 60 claims this winter, compared with 37 the previous year, said Peter Lavallee, a department spokesman. He said less than 10 percent of those who file claims receive compensation from the city.
   Mr. Marsili said a road crew worked in each ward during the winter. Now that it’s warm, he said, crews are making permanent improvements, which should reduce the number of potholes in the future.
   For Omar Latiri, 27, of Rockville, there was no avoiding the pothole on MacArthur Boulevard. He said that though he drives carefully in the winter, he couldn’t see the hole that flattened a tire on his Toyota Corolla.
   “The most horrible bang occurred,” he said. “It was like hitting a curb.”
   Mr. Latiri said he places only a little blame on road crews that scrambled to keep city streets clear of snow this past winter.
   “I was just so afraid of driving on any street,” he said. “You could see all of the other cars weaving to avoid the potholes.”

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