But now that Snowzilla is just a memory, the Washington region and other parts of the country are gearing up for repairs.
It’s even become a seasonal event as big as Groundhog Day, surrounded by its own customs and traditions.
The District’s Department of Transportation plans to launch Potholepalooza later this month or early April, DDOT spokesman Terry Owens said Monday. It’s been an annual tradition in the city since 2009. In years past, District road crews hustled to make repairs within 48 hours of receiving a report of a pothole, instead of the usual 72 hours, in what amounts to a race against time, mechanics, and chiropractors.
Montgomery County Executive Isiah “Ike” Leggett announced an intensive campaign to patch potholes there last week. Leggett said in a statement that the county’s transportation department fixed more than 1,000 potholes since January. In Fairfax County, whose primary and secondary roads are generally maintained by the Virginia Department of Transportation, motorists have a new tool that allows them to use their smart phones or other mobile devices to report potholes, spokeswoman Anna Nissinen said.
Many other states and local jurisdictions have toll-free numbers or other convenient ways to report potholes this time of year. Boston came up with an app — known as Street Bump — that records data on the roughness of city streets in real time so that road crews can make repairs and plan investments.
Some chuckholes become downright nasty after a few months of winter. Just ask Richard Retting, an executive at Sam Schwartz Consulting, an Arlington, Va.-based firm specializing in transportation. Retting, who has a 1982 BMW R100, took the motorcycle out for a spin when temperatures in the Washington region climbed into the 70s recently. Then he ran into what he says is a pet peeve — a “manmade pothole” caused by utility cuts in the roadway.
“I was on my motorcycle and I hit one of these utility cuts on Lee Highway, and I almost fell off,” Retting said Monday. For most people, he said, the potential damage from a pothole isn’t as dramatic, but it’s real nonetheless. “In terms of quality of life, it creates a very miserable driving experience. It hits people in the pocketbook.”
Americans spend about $3 billion a year repairing vehicle damage from potholes, according to a survey released last month by AAA. That’s about what was spent on Cyber Monday last fall. About one in five drivers in the Mid-Atlantic region had to make repairs because of pothole damage, AAA Mid-Atlantic says.
Potholes come and go with winter weather, even if they seem to be faster coming than going. They form when water seeps into cracks in the pavement and then freezes. Freezing water expands, so the cracks widen. The constant pounding of vehicular traffic further weakens the pavement further until the cracks become a hole. Some become “zombie potholes” that never seem to disappear despite several “throw-and-go”patches.
But weather’s not the only factor. A roadway riddled with potholes could be yet one more sign that the United States has been letting its infrastructure decay for years, said John B. Townsend II, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic.
But potholes are also, perversely, the flip side of progress, Townsend said. That’s because a main contributor to potholes are utility cuts. When there’s new development, and new utilities such as electric cable or gas lines go in, burying them under streets and roads also makes those surfaces more susceptible to potholes.
“States and local governments could do a better job monitoring utility companies and plumbers that open up the pavement,” Retting said. But, he said, those entities rarely do.
So somewhere out there, there’s probably a pothole big enough to swallow your car. You just haven’t found it yet. But at least the sight of road crews trying to patch them means that there are no more weeks of winter.
Feel free to send pictures, maps or heroic first-person accounts of your encounters with giant potholes to email@example.com.