D.C. to begin Potholepalooza fest in March


A DDOT crew walks across fresh, very hot asphalt to smooth out the pothole repair. (Robert Thomson/The Washington Post, file photo, 2009)

All the highway departments in the D.C. area invite travelers to report potholes, but the District government is unusual in the extent to which it shares the experience of discovering and fixing the road hazards.

The group event known as Potholepalooza is scheduled to begin on March 20, Mayor Vincent C. Gray announced Wednesday. This annual, month-long reporting and patching campaign isn’t the only time when the District Department of Transportation fixes potholes. It just has the highest profile. In announcing the 2014 Potholepalooza, Gray noted that DDOT already has filled more than 9,000 potholes this winter.

But the palooza ups the ante a bit. DDOT will add more patching crews and speed up its goal for fixing reported potholes from 72 hours to 48 hours. While holes in the pavement are popping up all the time — crews patched more than twice as many this January and February as they did last year — DDOT waits till the approach of spring stabilizes temperatures a bit before putting on the palooza.

City residents and commuters don’t have to wait for the campaign to begin. They can always turn in a pothole by calling 311 in the District, going online to 311.dc.gov, using the DC311 app or sending a tweet to @ddotdc. Extras for the palooza include the e-mail potholepalooza@dc.gov and a Facebook page at facebook.com/DDOTpotholepalooza. (At this writing, it still shows the 2013 version.)

DDOT has even used a map to pinpoint sightings and fixes during previous paloozas.

Asphalt covered boots Boots don’t last long in hot asphalt. (Robert Thomson/The Washington Post)

During the first campaign in 2009, I watched a crew fix an extra-large pothole that had developed at a bus stop by Orange and Second streets in Southeast Washington. That’s where I took the picture at the top of this posting.

The asphalt had cracked under the pressure of many buses. Moisture seeped into the cracks, froze and then thawed. The weight of more buses advanced the fracturing, and the pavement was destroyed.

A fix this big required a large crew, with rakes and shovels, a roller, a front-end loader and a truck filled with hot asphalt. Once the asphalt is poured and distributed, the crew walks over it with the shovels and rakes to make sure the patch is smooth. When the asphalt load arrives, it’s at several hundred degrees. Crew members who must wade across the patch go through many pairs of boots in a patching season.

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region.

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Robert Thomson · February 26, 2014