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Pothole on Anderson Avenue.

Photo by Adele Uphaus-Conner

After the winter snow come the potholes

25 Feb 2016 | Adele Uphaus-Conner Marine Corps Base Quantico

A few weeks ago, you were navigating patches of ice and piles of snow that reduced roads to one lane. Now, you’re swerving to avoid potholes.

These craters in the road can open up seemingly overnight after a winter weather event. They are caused by the freezing and thawing of moisture trapped between the top layer of pavement and the material beneath.

“After a snow event, water seeps through surface cracks,” said Elton Rupe, facilities operations officer for Marine Corps Base Quantico. “As it freezes and thaws, it lifts and breaks up the pavement.”

Eventually, a hole forms in the sub-base that grows bigger as water keeps collecting, freezing and thawing there. Traffic passing on top further weakens the pavement until it collapses into the void beneath, causing a pothole.

According to the American Society of Civil Engineers Report Card for Infrastructure, driving on roads full of potholes costs motorists in the Washington, D.C. area approximately $833 per motorist, or $331 million a year. Hitting a pothole can cause damage to a vehicle’s tires, its alignment, its bearings (what turns it from side to side), its steering and its suspension system.

While cold and inclement weather continues, Rupe said potholes aboard Base are fixed with “cold patch,” a mixture of asphalt and stone that stays soft. Workers shovel the mix into the potholes and compact it.

“It’s a temporary, expedient repair,” Rupe said.

How long a cold patch repair job lasts will depend on how much traffic the road handles. On a heavily traveled thoroughfare such as Barnett Avenue, it might last for a couple of weeks only—but on a side street, it can last for years.

Pothole repair with cold patch goes on throughout the winter, Rupe said.

“As materials come in, we do the repairs. It’s a continuous process,” he said.

He said that road crews worked the weekend of Feb. 20 and the preceding weekend patching potholes on the Main Side.

“They did the front gate to the back gate and got the majority of them,” Rupe said. “We just received six pallets of cold patch and we’ve already used five. Crews took the last pallet to fix potholes on the West Side today so we’ll need to order some more.”

He added that crews will fill holes with gravel until a new shipment of cold patch arrives.

When weather is warmer and dryer, road workers fix potholes with “hot mix,” a combination of asphalt, sand and gravel chunks of different size that flows while it is hot and hardens into a durable surface.

Potholes can be prevented from forming by resealing roads that have visible cracks. Rupe said that several roads aboard Base are scheduled to receive this treatment over the summer.

Rupe said that currently, some of the worst potholes on base can be found on the ramps connecting Route 1 and MCB-1.

Rupe encourages drivers to report the specific location of potholes to the Facilities Maintenance service desk at 703-784-2072.

“We’re all aware that potholes occur,” he said. “Drivers out there are our best eyes as to where they are.”

To report the location of potholes aboard Base, call 703-784-2072. To report damage to a POV due to roads call 703-784-3679.

Marine Corps Base Quantico