- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 6, 2005

The familiar winter ritual of vehicles bouncing along roads damaged by the cycle of freezing and thawing has crews once again filling cavities.

“Potholes get bigger and bigger the more you drive over them,” said Bill Rice, spokesman for the D.C. Department of Transportation. “They are like decaying teeth.”

The pothole season got into full swing late last month when consecutive weekend storms brought a mix of snow and ice that had crews plowing and scraping streets, then fixing the holes created when the moisture seeped into cracks and froze. The frozen moisture expands and splits the pavement, then the cracks get larger as vehicles drive over them, eventually forming potholes.

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Though the pothole is as old as the paved road, transportation officials have new ways to fix them.

In 2003, the District began using four hole-repair vehicles that cost $100,000 apiece and are known as Pro-Patch machines.

The trucks are equipped with pressurized jackhammers and “tampers” — devices that allow crews to cut square holes around potholes, then tamp down the filler until it is level with the road surface.

“The Pro-Patch machines make the repair longer lasting because they take away the decay around the tooth, clearing out any debris in the hole,” Mr. Rice said.

D.C. policy is to repair potholes within three business days after they are reported, he said.

“Some of them are pretty big, pretty deep, but nothing that we can’t handle,” Mr. Rice said. “We try to have eight crews out during the heightened season — January through March when the spring thaws.”

The District received 5,300 reports of potholes last year, compared with 7,500 in 2003 and 8,000 in 2002.

Mr. Rice said the drop-off was, in part, because the city recently repaved thousands of blocks of streets and because pothole patches usually last five to 10 years.

David Buck, spokesman for the Maryland State Highway Administration, said the number of holes on state roads is on the rise.

“We’re starting to see more and more, and that’s a product of coming out of a very cold spell and starting to warm up,” he said. “The freeze-thaw cycle is the worst enemy for a pothole.”

State crews spent much of the weekend patching spots on Interstate 95.

Last week, officials instituted a rolling two-lane closure on the Capital Beltway so crews could fill the holes.

“It’s not as simple as pulling a truck behind [a pothole.] There are a lot of safety precautions to it as well,” Mr. Buck said.

Agency officials said they spent $825,953 to repair 13,785 square yards of potholes in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties during fiscal 2004. The agency has spent $365,649 to repair 6,516 square yards of potholes in the counties this fiscal year. Mr. Buck said the state tries to repair a hole within 24 hours of notification on weekdays and reaches the goal 99 percent of the time.

John Townsend, spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, called the holes a “quintessential token of the urban jungle.”

“It’s a real problem,” he said. “The industry and the city will say they’re using better equipment, but the problem is the law of nature naturally occurs. On more heavily traveled roads, potholes pop up more quickly.”

Ryan Hall, spokesman for the Virginia Department of Transportation, said 21 crews are filling about 200 potholes daily and that each crew costs about $5,000 a day.

“Every time the snow melts, it’s time to do potholes,” he said. “It’s a vicious cycle when the weather warms up, then gets below freezing.”

He said recent repairs are temporary because temperatures are too low for permanent ones. “Every snow we have, the potholes tend to pop back up,” Mr. Hall said. “It’s definitely a never-ending battle.”

He said the state plans to use the “Pothole Killer,” a truck used last winter to fill more than 100 holes a day.

An armlike device on the truck is about 9 feet long and pours a hot asphalt mix, then dry rock. A pothole is fixed, dry and ready for traffic in about 15 minutes.

Last year, major snowstorms caused so many potholes that Gov. Mark Warner declared a “pothole blitz,” in Virginia, Mr. Hall said.

As a result, crews statewide spent two weeks last February filling 95,000 potholes on 57,000 miles of road, he said.

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