- The Washington Times - Monday, December 22, 2003

Pothole season in the metropolitan area likely will be particularly rough because of a record year of severe weather that already has left craters in local roads.

Ryan Hall, spokesman for the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), said pothole season has “already begun.”

Potholes usually begin forming in late winter or early spring, but “because of the moisture and the two back-to-back snowfalls we [have] had, new potholes are forming,” said Mr. Hall. “If the moisture continues the way it’s been, it could be just as bad as last year.”

Last winter, local motorists avoided — and sometimes accidentally explored — many craters caused by freezing and thawing temperatures already recurring on city streets.

“It’s still very early in the pothole season, but this is just the kind of weather the roads don’t need,” said Lon Anderson, spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic.

“The combination of the moisture constantly freezing and unfreezing isn’t good, and forecasters are calling for that type of weather all winter,” Mr. Anderson said. “If that continues, this is going to be a long winter as far as potholes are concerned.

“The damage that potholes can cause can be anything from altering alignments, blowouts, bending and damaging wheel rims or, ultimately, causing crashes. With this type of weather, the roads can only get worse,” he said.

The metropolitan area receives an average of 12 inches of snow every December. The National Weather Service reports about 6.6 inches have accumulated so far this month.

Between 10 inches and 12 inches of snow have fallen this month in western and northern sections of Virginia, including Grayson, Wythe and Augusta counties.

Potholes form after rain or melted snow seeps into roads and then freezes. The ice expands and splits the pavement, and the cracks get larger as vehicles drive over them, eventually creating a pothole.

Charles Gischlar, spokesman for the Maryland State Highway Administration, said that state roads are in good shape, but he remains wary of the upcoming months.

“There are a few potholes on some state highways. We try to repair them the same day as they’re reported. [Because of the weather], they can pop up overnight. But overall, the roads aren’t too bad,” Mr. Gischlar said. “We haven’t had a tremendous amount of calls. But we’ll have to wait and see how the rest of winter goes.”

Mr. Hall of VDOT said a different type of asphalt is used to quickly repair potholes in the winter, but that asphalt does not withstand winter conditions well and is only used until more permanent fills can be made after winter ends.

“We try to have a 72-hour turnaround on reports of potholes,” Mr. Hall said. “Our crews are very diligent and are out repairing potholes daily. But they are temporary measures that we use until spring.”

The D.C. Department of Transportation (DDOT) began using four Pro-Patch trucks, which cost about $100,000 each. The trucks, which are specially built for pothole filling, hold pressurized jackhammers and tampers that allow crews to cut square holes around potholes and then tamp down the filler mix to be level with existing pavement.

DDOT’s standard is to repair potholes within three business days after they are reported, said DDOT spokesman Bill Rice.

Peter Lavallee, spokesman for the D.C. Office of Corporation Counsel, said claims against the District for vehicle damage from potholes are not being made at the rate they were last winter.

“We had between 50 to 60 claims [last winter], compared with 37 in the previous winter,” Mr. Lavallee said. “This year, we haven’t had any claims filed yet at all, but, again, it’s still very early.”


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