ROCKVILLE – Lynn Metzger was driving home from work when she spotted two potholes that she said were “deep and could do significant damage to your car.”
The Silver Spring resident was driving on Linden Lane near the railroad tracks in the Forest Glen neighborhood when she quickly swerved her car and fortunately missed the potholes.
However, she predicted that anyone driving at night probably would not have seen the potholes before it was too late.
She went home and called “911.” The operator there put her in touch with a county employee involved with road emergency. The person she spoke with was able to see the road on his computer and told Metzger he would have it filled in.
Metzger is one of many county residents who have encountered potholes. Neighborhood listservs are full of warnings alerting drivers of potholes.
However, according to Montgomery County Department of Transportation spokesperson Maureen McNulty, “It’s been a relative soft winter.”
While it may not seem so to many drivers, “Montgomery County has no more than the typical number of potholes for this time of year and has fielded no more than a typical number of calls to report them,” she said.
Potholes are caused by expansion and contraction of groundwater after the water has entered the road or pavement. When it gets cold outside, the water expands, just as it does in ice cube trays, sometimes resulting in the cracking or worse of a paved surface.
Since spring won’t start for another month, it is difficult to predict how often new potholes will form here.
“We’re anticipating more potholes once we get into the spring and see more freeze/thaw cycles,” McNulty said.
She called filling potholes “a year-round affair.”
While the county may consider this a soft winter so far, it doesn’t seem that way to Jeremy Harps, service manager at Gaithersburg Firestone Complete Auto Care.
Requests for car repairs due to damage from potholes is “a little above” the number of requests received during the same period last year, Harps said.
“We’ve absolutely had a lot of vehicles” needing repair work, he said.
Most of the cars that inadvertently went over a pothole received either rim, suspension or tire damage, and frequently two or all three problems, Harps said.
The repair bill for not being able to avoid a pothole easily could set drivers back several hundred dollars, he said.
“The potholes are quite painful” to both the car and driver, he said.
McNulty said she wasn’t able to say how much the county has spent on road work connected to the weather so far this year, “as those funds are spent by various county agencies.”
The county has not received any extra state or federal funds to repave the roads, McNulty said, adding that Baltimore and Ellicott City did, mostly due to recent flooding.
“Montgomery County was fortunate to see no permanent road damage due to last year’s floods,” she said.
As of Feb. 19, before the following day’s predicted snowfall, the snow total so far this winter was an average of 21.2 inches, she said.
When drivers encounter a pothole, they should call the county’s “311” system or enter the information online at either the Montgomery County Department of Transportation or the Maryland State Highway Administration, depending on whether the road damage is to a county- or state-owned road.
The way to tell who owns the road is that if it is a numbered route, like 355 or 117, it is the state’s responsibility.
Besides the county and state, individual municipalities such as the City of Rockville, Gaithersburg and Takoma Park take care of their own roads.
During the last year, the county has received about 5,500 requests to fill potholes. It also filled many more, since not all potholes are reported.
Generally, county crews inspect and repair any reported potholes within three business days, weather permitting. The county has four crews out and about repairing potholes on any given day, using cold- patch materials to fix the road. Sometimes it takes multiple repairs, including excavation and repaving with asphalt, to complete the job.
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