- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 11, 2004

If you thought the potholes couldn’t get bigger, hold on to your steering wheel: David Buck, spokesman for the Maryland State Highway Administration, says pockmarked roadways are likely to get worse before they get better.

“We can’t lose sight of the fact that we’re only halfway through winter,” Mr. Buck said. Pothole repair “will be an ongoing battle throughout spring.”

“We can’t control Mother Nature, but hopefully, by March or April, we’ll get weather consistently above 40 degrees so we can really attack the problem.”

Repair crews, meanwhile, are racing this week — while the sun shines and the pavement is relatively dry — to at least temporarily patch potholes across the Washington area.

Bill Rice, spokesman for the D.C. Departments of Public Works and Transportation, said the District — with 11 crews working six days a week from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and four crews working until 10 p.m., is meeting its goal of filling any reported pothole within three days.

That guarantee applies even to residential streets, Mr. Rice said. “We’re committed to anyone within 72 hours.”

Mr. Rice said there was a surge in pothole reports on Monday, with several hundred reported, and crews have been filling those holes and others the workers find on their own.

Virginia Department of Transportation workers are patching about 200 potholes a day, said spokesman Ryan Hall. More than 20 crews are filling pavement gaps in Northern Virginia.

The crews work from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., taking advantage of the weather while avoiding rush hours.

“This is a perfect week,” Mr. Hall said. “The temperatures are warmer and we have no calls for snow next week.”

Virginia also touts a 72-hour deadline on filling holes. “Our crews are very diligent and are out repairing potholes daily,” Mr. Hall said. But he and other highway officials admit that the patches going down this week may not be there next month.

Even though temperatures are higher, it still is too cold for undertaking “permanent” repairs. If it snows again, most of the temporary patches are likely to come undone.

More permanent fixes probably will have to wait until March, when the temperature is above 50 degrees.

Until then, Lon Anderson, the director of public relations at AAA Mid-Atlantic, has safety tips for drivers.

“First, be very careful about swerving,” Mr. Anderson said. “If you lose control of your car and crash, you could end up much worse.”

If hitting a pothole is unavoidable, easing off the brake before impact could save your car.

“Roll through it,” Mr. Anderson said. “If you’ve got that wheel locked up, it takes the whole brunt.”

The wet conditions have produced an “unholy situation,” according to Mr. Anderson. If a farmer were trying to grow potholes, he said, these would be perfect conditions.

“We’re seeing a bumper crop this year,” Mr. Anderson said.

Based on AAA member calls, however, this season is not as bad as the past year’s — though Mr. Anderson anticipates more pothole-related calls to roll in.

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

Under some circumstances, motorists whose cars are damaged in a pothole can be compensated by the jurisdiction responsible for the road. Those in Maryland who wish to file a claim should call the state treasurer’s office at 410/260-7684. Virginia drivers should call 703/383-VDOT, and those in the District should contact the Office of Corporation Counsel at 202/727-6275.

Maryland spent $2.2 million on pothole repair in fiscal 2003 and $970,000 the previous fiscal year, Mr. Buck said. “There is a direct correlation between the weather” and pothole-repair expenses, he said.

This winter was the first time the D.C. Department of Transportation has used its four new $100,000 Pro-Patch trucks. The trucks, built specially 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.

The District received about 8,000 reports of potholes in 2002 and about 7,500 in the past year, Mr. Rice said. The reduction in reports, he said, was because the city re-paved about 3,000 blocks of streets in the past three years. Repaved roads usually are pothole-free for five to 10 years, he said.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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