Campaign to patch up Port City potholes underway

Campaign to patch up Port City potholes underway

By Erich Wagner (File photo)

As the Port City finally thaws out from a messy winter, city officials are taking stock of the cold weather’s toll on the blacktop.

The city department of transportation and environmental services kicked off its annual campaign to fill potholes last month. Jeff DuVal, the department’s division chief of maintenance, said that since March 20, crews have filled around 1,400 potholes on city streets, averaging between 200 and 300 repairs per day.

Transportation director Rich Baier compared the annual effort to similar campaigns undertaken by nearby municipalities, which also are struggling to mend the damage wrought by winter. Officials across the region are calling on the public for help identifying marred roads.

“We’re really heavily trying to market it to get our partners in the private sector — residents, businesses and even tourists — to call in [potholes] in a very focused way,” Baier said. “A lot of people think it’s just kind of a comfort and ride-ability issue, but it’s also about protecting one of our biggest assets: our roadway system.”

Baier said that while the area didn’t see any snowfall records broken this winter, the way snow repeatedly covered the region caused a particular headache for transportation officials.

“If you look at how a pothole forms, for us it’s not just the amount of precipitation, [because] it’s almost better to have a lot of snow that then melts and goes away,” he said. “This year, we had precipitation melt and refreeze over and over. All of that expansion and contraction, expansion and contraction, with trucks and cars riding over it, makes for more potholes.”

The scope of the damage has raised eyebrows. And more than a few residents and elected officials worry that not enough money has been set aside for road repaving efforts in the proposed fiscal 2015 budget.

But that highlights a common misperception. Fixing a pothole is not the same as repaving a road and the two are covered in separate budgets, Baier said.

“Repaving and rehabilitation is like creating a durable good, with a longevity of longer than a year,” Baier said. “Filling a pothole is not really creating a piece of infrastructure. It’s doing a little repair.”

DuVal said repaving projects are part of the capital budget, while the department receives about $500,000 annually for year-round road maintenance.

“Of that [$500,000], $50,000 is specifically targeted to our spring pothole campaign,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we don’t do pothole repairs over the other 11 months, because we certainly do.”

City Councilor Del Pepper said the pothole problem is omnipresent and widespread — from Old Town to the West End — but was quick to laud the transportation department for its efforts.

“I think gradually, now that the weather is a little better, we’ll see some improvement, but as it has been, it’s just awful … and particularly in Old Town. There just wasn’t a road that didn’t need something,” Pepper said. “But Rich is on it and he’s doing the best he can, so we just ask the public to be patient and by all means report the potholes.”

Officials are encouraging residents to alert them of any potholes they come across by going to or calling 703-74-4357.*

*Because of a reporting error, this number was previously incorrect.