- The Washington Times - Monday, March 21, 2011

The District is a city in which most everything is political — except perhaps for potholes.

Two of them rattled the front-end of D.C. Council member Marion Barry’s car Monday on his way to start the city’s third-annual, pothole-filling initiative known as Potholepalooza.

“The streets ought to be safe, but also clean and driveable,” said Mr. Barry, Ward 8 Democrat, who joined Mayor Vincent C. Gray for the official start of the monthlong project.

Last year, the District filled 33,000 potholes, including 7,600 during the 30-day effort, which took about $891,000 from the D.C. Department of Transportation’s road-and-bridge maintenance budget. However, they do not expect 2011 to be a record-breaking year.

“We’re not getting a ton of them yet,” department spokesman John Lisle said.

Mr. Lisle pointed out that a winter with little snow, like this year’s, helps the pothole situation. But that doesn’t mean fewer of them because the culprit is precipitation seeping into cracks in street surfaces, followed by a freezing-and-thawing cycle.

“Unfortunately, people learn about potholes when they hit them,” Mr. Gray said. “This effort is focused on trying to do all of these potholes within 48 hours, but we want to be even more responsive than that.”

Mr. Lisle said the situation is better this year also because the city used some of its share of the Obama administration’s $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money to resurface damaged roads.

Allen Beach, a Ward 3 advisory neighborhood commissioner, agreed with city officials, saying the roads this year “have not been as bad as in some other years.”

However, other motorists tell a different story.

“Everywhere you drive — from Congress Heights to Fairlawn to Anacostia through Hillsdale you will find potholes,” said Anthony Muhammad, a Ward 8 advisory neighborhood commissioner. “Big and small, all shapes and sizes.”

But Mr. Muhammad also said that the ability to “tweet” a pothole complaint to DDOT was “a good thing.”

The city has three remedies for potholes depending on the severity — a cold-patch, hot asphalt or the “pothole killer” truck.

For the larger potholes, crews cut away and clean a swatch of roadway, add asphalt adhesive and asphalt, then use the truck to roll the surface to a smooth finish.

“It’s much more permanent,” Mr. Lisle said.

AAA, a tireless champion of motorists, offers this advice until potholes are filled: slow down.

“Try to hit it as slowly as possible to cause the least amount of damage,” said Kristin Nevels of AAA Mid-Atlantic.

The group doesn’t tally how many calls for road service last year in the District were the result of vehicles hitting potholes, but 2,527 were for flat tires, Ms. Nevels said.

Virginia and Maryland have embarked on similar efforts.

Virginia is also on a pothole-filling effort this month, called Pothole Blitz. State transportation crews last year fixed more than 161,000 potholes.

Maryland has no monthlong effort but does try to fix potholes within 24 hours of getting a report, said Charlie Gischlar, spokesman for the Maryland State Highway Administration.

Repair time could also be much shorter depending on the severity of the pothole and risks to traffic, Mr. Gischlar said, adding that small holes get fixed fast but the wait can be longer on weekends.

But some roads are so pocked with holes that a simple fill job becomes a full-on maintenance project in which crews take 100 feet of surrounding surface and scrape off the top two inches.

• Meredith Somers can be reached at msomers@washingtontimes.com.

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