- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The D.C. area is teeming with tire-flattening, chassis-scraping, alignment-ruining potholes, and highway agencies are busting their budgets to repair the lingering scars of winter. But with less than adequate road maintenance, a transportation expert predicts the seasonal annoyance may soon become a year-round nuisance.

Last winter, the Virginia Department of Transportation filled 146,000 potholes on the 58,000 miles of roads it maintains across the state. This year, crews have filled more than 100,000 street craters on the 16,000 miles they maintain in Northern Virginia alone, according to VDOT spokeswoman Jennifer McCord.

Meanwhile, the Maryland State Highway Administration estimates it has spent $3 million this season to fix potholes on the 16,000 miles of roadway it maintains. SHA spokesman David Buck estimates that $2 million is typically spent during an average year on such repairs.

“This winter and last winter were pretty brutal, and the substantial potholes were worse than normal,” Mr. Buck said, adding that repairs cost $3.5 million last year.

Although SHA overspent its snow removal budget by $69 million — it spent a total of $125 million this season — Mr. Buck said keeping roads in good condition is essential work that won’t be cut short, a sentiment echoed by other transportation officials in the region. The Maryland agency will seek to trim costs in other ways, by shuffling projects in its capital program budget or limiting the number of times it does roadside mowing this year.

“Just like we don’t stop plowing and salting, we would never stop filling the potholes,” Mr. Buck said. “That’s what the public demands.”

VDOT, which maintains all roads in Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties, and some in Arlington County, doesn’t track spending on pothole patching. But Ms. McCord said the road maintenance budget for the northern counties alone is $256 million, which includes funding for snow removal and scheduled repaving.

Like its Maryland counterpart, VDOT also overspent its snow removal budget last year, which may require the agency to defer spending on capital projects and new equipment, Ms. McCord said.

Although fixing the high number of potholes could cut into the budget for other items this year, Ms. McCord said patching them is a priority for safety reasons.

“As far as the patching of the potholes go, we will always do those and then we shift the budget or money around as needed,” she said.

Since the March kickoff of the District’s “Potholepalooza” street repair blitz, the District’s Department of Transportation reported filling more than 32,000 potholes. That eclipses the 13,000 potholes filled during the last go-round in 2014.

Even before the official March 25 kickoff, the DDOT had reported filling more than 18,000 potholes.

“Some of the streets will require a lot more work than just potholes,” DDOT spokeswoman Michelle Phipps-Evans said.

Of the city’s 4,300 miles of roadway, about half, or 2,300 miles, are considered local roads and paid for only with local funding.

In July, officials with DDOT classified 38 percent of locally funded roadways as being in “poor,” “very poor,” or “failed” condition. That’s compared to only 9 percent of D.C. roads that qualify for federal funding that have fallen into the same state of disrepair.

AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman John Townsend said a lack of proper maintenance over the long term has helped create the current situation.

“We are to the point now that pothole repairs will become a year-round thing. The reason for that is you can only neglect your roads for so long,” Mr. Townsend said.

Still, the roads in the D.C. region may not have suffered as much neglect as roadways in other parts of the country, Mr. Townsend said. In the last two years, lawmakers in Maryland and Virginia approved gas tax increases aimed at funding transportation infrastructure.

While pothole patching can cost less than road repaving and can be done quickly, it doesn’t last as long and requires more upkeep in the future. Mr. Buck said the materials Maryland SHA uses for pothole patching have a lifespan of about four to five years, while sectional replacements last up to 10 years.

Other area jurisdictions also plan to spend big on pothole repairs this year.

Alexandria, which conducts a similar springtime blitz effort, has budgeted $700,000 of its $3.6 million street repair budget for potholes. So far, crews have patched more than 5,000 potholes, said city spokeswoman Andrea Blackford.

Officials from Montgomery County said $1.6 million has been spent on filling potholes from January 1 through May 1.

“It’s slightly less than 2014 but comparable to other years,” said county spokeswoman Lorraine Driscoll.

In Prince George’s County, where the snow removal budget of $2.9 million was overspent by nearly $4 million, officials expect to fill about 5,000 potholes this spring.

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