- The Washington Times - Monday, March 28, 2005

Ah, the sounds of spring: The chirps of the birds … the pitter-patter of raindrops … and the thud of hitting one of the many potholes throughout the region.

For Bob Macpherson, service manager at the Car Doctor in Falls Church, the spring pothole season means “a fair amount of suspension work” at his shop.

He said drivers often hit a pothole and don’t notice a problem until their car fails its annual inspection because of a suspension problem.

Potholes form when moisture seeps into the pavement and then freezes, expands and thaws. The pavement weakens, and traffic loosens it more, eventually causing it to break up.

Transportation officials blame the weather, saying the frequent freezing rain and fluctuating temperatures this year will make the pothole problem worse than last year.

“Last year, we mostly had snow, snow, snow. This year we had a winter mix of ice and rain,” said Kellie Boulware, spokeswoman for the Maryland State Highway Administration. “This has been more of a pothole-prone year because of the varying temperatures.”

However, there is some welcome news — repairs are progressing faster than in previous years, when repeated heavy snowstorms slowed progress.

“It was much better than when we had all that snow two years ago,” said Ryan Hall, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Transportation. “We filled 95,000 potholes in two weeks.”

The District also reports a good year.

“There has been a steady trend downward in potholes,” said Bill Rice, a spokesman for the D.C. Department of Transportation.

Mr. Rice attributes this to less severe weather as well as preventive maintenance. He said the District has repaved more than 100 miles of roads in the past few years.

The type of repair and equipment used can make a difference. The ProPatch trucks used in the District dig up the street and remove the debris before repairing the hole, much like removing decay from a tooth before filling it.

“It’s not as good as repaving, but it’s much better than just pouring asphalt on the road,” Mr. Rice said.

Maryland plans to repave some areas with potholes when temperatures consistently reach concrete mixture.

Mr. Hall said Virginia crews are using temporary patches as well as hot asphalt followed by a layer of gravel in their “Pothole Killer” trucks. The trucks, with an armlike device that sticks out about nine feet in the front, can patch a hole in less than a minute.

Virginia spends about $11 million a year combating the nuisance, while Maryland spent nearly $2.3 million last year. Maryland spends less because counties are responsible for more of their own roads.

Miss Boulware said the Maryland agency welcomes pothole reports from drivers and will respond within 24 hours.

Crews also drive stretches of secondary roads and repair all the potholes in their paths.

“They have done most of the secondary roadways, including Route 355 and Route 29,” Miss Boulware said.

But road crews and drivers agree potholes can pop back up in the same spot days later.

“If we patched a pothole two days ago, it can pop back up if it snows again and a vehicle goes over it,” Mr. Hall said.

The Virginia department said there is hope on the horizon for better cold patch asphalt that lasts longer. New roads also have less capacity to retain moisture.

But for now, this annoyance for drivers will keep mechanics and road crews in business.

“They’ll never be out of the job,” Mr. Hall said.

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