Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner today ordered a two-week, 24-hour-a-day "pothole blitz," telling his transportation department to work nonstop to temporarily patch hundreds of thousands of potholes in the state's roads created by last month's snow, ice and rain.
Warner (D) said the decision was prompted by his own travel across the state in the last two weeks, much of it bumpy.
"The number of potholes I've seen and the size of the potholes I've seen are not only a safety hazard but a driving hazard," Warner said today. "We've got to get these potholes fixed."
Virginia Department of Transportation officials said they will immediately begin hiring contract workers to supplement crews. They estimated that the effort will cost the state $22 million, double the current pothole budget.
"Fourteen days from tomorrow morning, we are going to make a substantial difference," VDOT Commissioner Philip A. Shucet vowed. "It really has risen to a level of being a serious safety issue."
Shucet said Northern Virginia has been particularly hard hit by large amounts of snow and ice.
Ho Chang, director of the Office of Transportation in Fairfax County, said potholes on the county's roads are as numerous and as large as he's seen.
"It's not just the number, it's how bad these things are," Chang said. "There's a continuous stream of potholes. You can avoid one or two, but when there are so many, you just grit your teeth and drive through them."
Potholes are created when water seeps into cracks in pavement or concrete and freezes, breaking up the road. The situation gets worse during periods of repeated thawing and freezing, officials said.
Transportation officials said they think that there are hundreds of thousands of potholes on roads, big and small. In the next two weeks, crews will place temporary patches of asphalt in the holes to prevent jarring bumps that can puncture tires and cause accidents.
But officials said Virginia residents should not expect to see potholes in their cul-de-sacs or small neighborhood streets fixed right away. They said they will follow a priority list similar to the one used for snow removal, targeting interstates and larger roads first.
"The smaller roads will wait," VDOT spokeswoman Tamara Neale said.
Neale said the added cost of the pothole repair may force VDOT to delay routine maintenance along state roads, such as mowing grass, trimming trees and clearing ditches.
She said repaving projects will continue as planned.
The two-week pothole-repair blitz will begin Thursday morning, Neale said. She said repair crews will not attempt to permanently fix potholes during the next two weeks. In late April and early May, VDOT crews will begin their normal maintenance routine, which includes the permanent pothole fixes that take more time and require warmer weather.
Even so, officials said the temporary patches may require crews to set up work zones that could spark traffic delays.
Shucet said workers would seek to minimize delays and would work at night whenever possible to avoid causing rush-hour problems.
"We are going to get in and get out as fast as we can," he said.