A 16-car derailment in Northeast D.C. reignites a debate over freight routes in well-populated areas.
Across the area, the consensus seems to be winter weather has worn out its welcome. And it’s taking a toll on more than people’s patience. Roads across the region are showing lots of wear and tear from storms and efforts to clean up after them. Though crews have been performing spot repairs throughout the season, we find out when drivers might expect longer-term relief.
- John Townsend Manager of Public and Government Relations, AAA Mid-Atlantic
- Reggie Sanders Communications Director, D.C. Department of Transportation
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, a new study highlights how the sex for sale business now operates here in Washington. But first, rain, snow and ice. Temperatures in the early teens, rising all the way up to 60 degrees, right before dropping below freezing again. The extreme weather that's exasperated people in our region has all the right ingredients for a roadway filled with potholes.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAnd local officials say the number of cracks and miniature craters popping up on our streets and highways this winter is one for the record books, making commutes even more difficult for drivers and bikers, and creating a headache for city officials who are still busy clearing away snow, slush and ice from the latest storm. Joining me to discuss this is John Townsend. He is Manager of Public and Government Affairs for AAA's Mid-Atlantic's Washington office. He joins us by telephone. John Townsend, welcome.
MR. JOHN TOWNSENDGood afternoon, Kojo. Great being with you.
NNAMDIThank you for joining us. Also with us by phone is Reggie Sanders, Communications Director for The D.C. Department of Transportation. Reggie Sanders, thank you for joining us.
MR. REGGIE SANDERSMy pleasure, Kojo. Thank you.
NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments about potholes, give us a call. 800-433-8850 or send email to email@example.com. Reggie Sanders, the latest storm has just about everyone in our region throwing up our hands in the air, crying enough already. But once the snow finally melts away, the city will still have to deal with the aftermath of a season of harsh winter conditions. What kind of toll has this extreme weather taken on our roadways?
SANDERSWell, you know, I don't know what's worse Kojo, the kids staying home from school all this time or filling potholes, but it's taking quite a toll on us. We've had storm after storm after storm, and I'm a native Washingtonian. I don't remember this ever happening before, but to date, we've filled about, over 11,000 potholes since January 1. That's about, I guess, more than double than where we were last year at this time. So, it's taking quite a toll.
NNAMDII don't remember myself, it ever having being this frequent over such a long period, either. But John Townsend, the Department of Transportation is gonna start its annual Potholepalooza this week. It's a month long pothole filling campaign starting. As you prepare for that, what are you hearing from the public, John Townsend? What are D.C. residents saying about road conditions and the number of potholes carving out space on our region's roads?
TOWNSENDThis is perhaps the worst pothole season in five years, and perhaps the worst in a decade. You have to go back to Snowmageddon in the winter of 2009 and 2010 when you had at least five nor'easters. But think about this Kojo. This winter we've had, 26 winter storms in the Washington metro area, and each time you have these storms, you have potholes. So they are proliferating, they are populating the area and they are multiplying. And when you patch one, as Reggie just told you a moment ago, because it's been so cold, that's only a temporary fix. And so, when you have the Potholepalooza going on, hopefully the weather will be warm enough that the patches will take.
NNAMDIReggie, tell us about Potholepalooza and what's expected to take place there.
SANDERSWell, it's a tense couple of weeks where we're gonna go through and, like I said, we filled already 10 -- 11,000 potholes, and we're gonna go through all parts of the city and make sure that everything is covered. So what we want people to do is to send us any information on potholes in their community at 311.dc.gov or call 727-1000. And you can also check our pothole locator map, which is online, and they can find out where their potholes, if they've been repaired.
SANDERSSo, we've been way ahead it, so I think that coming into Potholepalooza, we're gonna, you know, just actually close this season out, and I think these guys have been doing a great job.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, that's the voice of Reggie Sanders. He's Communications Director for the D.C. Department of Transportation. We're talking potholes with him and with John Townsend, Manager of Public and Government Affairs for AAA's Mid-Atlantic's Washington Office. Inviting your calls about the subject of potholes. 800-433-8850. You can send us a tweet @kojoshow or email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Reggie, we haven't just seen freezing conditions, snow storms.
NNAMDIWe've also seen several sunny, 60 degree, sometimes 70 degree weather days. How has this mix of warm and freezing conditions created a particularly damaging recipe for roadways?
SANDERSYeah. Well, the city's not used to it. I mean, we have an extreme fluctuation in temperatures where we have 40 degree days and then we can have seven degree nights. And so with those temperatures, the base layer of the surface layer, you know, constantly expanding and contracting, back and forth. They are actually moving away from each other, so when one contracts and then the other expands -- then you have a deterioration of the road, which creates a pothole.
SANDERSBut that's the real issue, is that that temperature, we need that temperature to be, ideally, above 45 and consistently stay there for several days, so that we can treat the potholes and they can stay. Otherwise, if the temperatures come back and we have a lot of moisture and a lot of freezing, the potholes, they will pop back out. And that's one of the biggest concerns of residents. While we just filled it last week or the day before and why is it popping back out, it's the extreme temperatures.
NNAMDIJohn Townsend, potholes can be an annoyance, but how are you seeing bad road conditions actually damage vehicles? What kind of problems are you hearing from drivers around our region?
TOWNSENDWell, one of the tell tale signs of so many potholes is the number of flat tire calls we've gotten this year. And so far this winter, we've repaired, in our region, over 76,000 flat tires. And that's one of the symptomatic signs of a pothole damage. And then, damage to the rims, damage to the front end, damage to the struts and to the infrastructure that upholds the tire, the tire well itself. And we estimate, nationwide, that this year, Americans will spend over 6.4 billion dollars on repairs to their vehicles from pothole damage. And it's not just in D.C.
TOWNSENDFor example, you have, in Maryland, where they're injecting 12 million -- I'm sorry, 10 million dollars to the counties, the 23 counties and the city of Baltimore to repair potholes, because many local municipalities are running out of money to repair potholes. And we estimate that the state of Virginia will have to infuse another 12 million dollars, because VDOT has to maintain over 58,000 miles of roads in the state. And they're all populated and proliferated by potholes.
NNAMDIReggie Sanders, we've been talking about drivers, but potholes can be damaging for other people commuting on our city streets. How is DDOT working to keep these roads safe for bikers?
SANDERSWell, that's a good point, Kojo. We do shovel the bike lanes for the bikers. We get volunteers, actually, at DDOT that will go out and do that. And we also make sure that the, excuse me, I'm sorry, the bike stations for our Bike Share Program are opening and functional. Because that is a viable way of -- to traverse the city, on a bike. So, I think the thing is is that we get out there early enough, we -- like today, we were out treating the roads very early. And shoveling the snow in a battle with the snow. But I think, now, we've pretty much won the war.
NNAMDIJohn, what recommendations do you have for people who are driving and biking on pothole ridden streets?
TOWNSENDWell, one of the things we tell drivers is to be extremely cautious and don't veer to avoid a pothole. In other words, we say two things and they don't sound contradictory. But here's the first one. Don't hit a pothole, but if you can't avoid the pothole, don't veer, because you could hit a cyclist or a pedestrian or someone who's jogging. Or you can smash into another car and cause more damage and injure or kill someone. Secondly, if you're coming across a pothole and you can't avoid it, then gently tap your brakes, but don't slam on your brakes.
TOWNSENDBecause if the brakes are locked when you hit a pothole, you do more damage to your car. And then watch drivers ahead of you. If you see drivers swerving or trying to avoid potholes, that's a tell tale sign that that road is fraught with potholes. Potholes are pandemic this year, so you have to keep your eyes open for them and look ahead of you.
NNAMDIReggie, this has undoubtedly been an expensive winter for local governments. Does D.C...
NNAMDIDoes D.C. still have the resources to fill all of the potholes that are going to be plaguing the city streets during the coming weeks?
SANDERSYeah. I think the Mayor noted, in one of his last press conferences on the snow, that we would be going over budget, but that would not be a problem. And it hasn't been a problem. We've been able to keep the work done, getting potholes filled around the city. And we've done it within 72 hours or three business days. And I think we're one of the few jurisdictions that actually tell you when we'll be able to get those things -- get the potholes fixed. So again, it is always with people letting us know where they are and the problems that they're having in their communities. But yes, we're over budget.
NNAMDIJohn Townsend, how have you seen other local jurisdictions deal with the high cost of repairing streets and highways?
TOWNSENDWell, the problem is, Kojo, it's not just the potholes. It's the state of the infrastructure in the first place, going into the winter. And that only made a bad situation worse. We had a report that came out from the American Society of Civil Engineers last year, a report card, 2013 report card, and it showed that the average Virginian would spend about $254 in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs from driving the roads that need a repair. And the tab, for Virginia alone, is 1.3 billion. It's 311 million in the District of Columbia and in the state of Maryland, it's 1.5 billion.
TOWNSENDSo, about a cost of $422 per motorist in that state. So, it's very expensive when you have roads that are sorely in need of repair. And the District is doing a great job, but there's so much bad infrastructure around our region, because we have the most heavily traveled roads in the whole country, in the Washington metro area. And the more vehicular travel you have, or traffic you have, the more damage is done, daily, to those roads.
NNAMDIJohn Townsend is Manager of Public and Government Affairs for AAA's Mid-Atlantic's Washington Office. John, thank you for joining us.
TOWNSENDThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIReggie Sanders is Communications Director for the D.C. Department of Transportation. Reggie, thank you for joining us.
SANDERSYou're welcome, Kojo. Thank you very much.
NNAMDIWhen we come back, a new study highlighting how the sex for sale business now operates in Washington. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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