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Potholes present problems

February 13, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

The worst may be yet to come in the winter season's impact on area roads, highway officials said Thursday.

Potholes - the asphalt equivalents of open sores - have begun popping up after nearly three straight months of snow, ice, salting and plowing.

"We're gonna have a lot more potholes before it's all over with," said Ted Wolford, Washington County Highway Department director.

Potholes are formed when water seeps underneath roads, Wolford said. The water freezes, thaws, then refreezes while snowplows and cars travel over the road.

"If you ever put a bottle of water in the freezer, it expands," Wolford said. The water "has to have some place to go.

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"As traffic runs over it, it kind of heaves up and down, breaks the black top, and soon enough you have a hole," Wolford said.

With temperatures barely creeping above 40 degrees so far this year, Wolford said he expects the problem to increase.

Wolford and State Highway Administration spokeswoman Kellie Boulware said crews are out fixing potholes. Citizens can call their agencies to report potholes and other road problems.

The city of Hagerstown also has asked citizens to report potholes. City Public Works Department Manager Eric Deike did not return telephone calls Wednesday and Thursday seeking comment on the story.

Questions to local officials about who is responsible for damage that occurs to a vehicle that strikes a pothole went unanswered. Wolford referred a reporter to the county attorney. John Urner, the Hagerstown city attorney, said, "I'm not going to opine on that."

Wolford said there are four county crews to address the road problems, and they generally work in three- and four-person crews. At this time of year, he said the fixes will not be permanent.

It still is too cold to use the permanent fix - a "hot mix" - so only a "cold mix" asphalt repair can be made. In a "cold mix," the asphalt basically is dumped into the pothole at air temperature, packed down and left until crews can make a more permanent fix, Wolford said.

Boulware said state roads crews make sweeps of roads and repair potholes when they see them, but the most recent storms were hard on the highways.

Workers out of the local office "said that, of course, with the melting snow we had last week and the sleet ... they've had a substantial amount of potholes," Boulware said.

Secondary state roads such as Md. 66, Md. 68 and Md. 63 have been damaged most, she said.

"Luckily, we've had a few good weather days," Boulware said

Still, she expected problems to remain for some time.

"Pretty much, it's been potholes and more potholes. We've been working pretty much around the clock," Boulware said.

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