WASHINGTON – Drivers who unexpectedly slam into a pothole on D.C. streets can sometimes get the city to pay for the damage, and last year, one driver got more than $6,000.
Factors such as heavy rains and freeze-thaw cycles have led to an early pothole season this winter, District Department of Transportation Director Jeff Marootian told a D.C. Council committee this week. “My biggest priority is just filling potholes, getting those hazards removed as quickly as possible.”
More than half of the District’s roughly 1,000 miles of local roads and alleys, and more than a third of its 450 miles of federally funded roads, are rated as being in poor or fair condition.
Last year, DDOT paid out dozens of claims for pothole damage for $35 to $6,353.50, data provided to the D.C. Council show.
The biggest payout came more than a year after an incident that happened on Aug. 23, 2016; D.C. also paid out $5,358.21 for an incident on Dec. 29, 2016.
A number of other payouts ranged from several hundred dollars to more than $2,000; several dozen claims were denied, including one from someone who said they tripped and fell in a pothole.
Some claims are filed by individual people; others, by insurance companies looking to get their money back for repairs done immediately following an incident.
Many of the claims took months to resolve, since drivers must show there was some kind of negligence involved – for example, a pothole that was reported weeks earlier the city failed to fix.
Claims also must be filed to the correct agency – any claim against the District for a pothole on a National Park Service parkway is rejected.
The Park Service has its own claim system, which also requires drivers show some kind of negligence in order to get compensation.
For claims against the District, drivers can file through the Office of Risk Management.
For claims against the Park Service, drivers can file through the National Capital Regional Office.
In Maryland and Virginia, claims on state roads go through the respective state offices. Most Northern Virginia roads outside of Arlington and incorporated cities are the Virginia Department of Transportation’s responsibility.
Getting a pothole fixed
Crews fill potholes based on reports from DDOT and from drivers. The agency has also been testing a few patrol vehicles outfitted with automatic pothole detection and location technology. A similar combination of reports from drivers and the internal data is used to determine where broader paving fixes will be done across the city.
DDOT will soon release a paving map showing the roads scheduled for work this year. Similar maps are published in Maryland and Virginia.
The District typically aims to fill potholes reported to 311 within three days. In 2017, DDOT filled 7,042 potholes across the city, and did not always meet that response-time goal.
“In prior years a Pothole Killer was used which was fast but often ineffective. This year DDOT focused on effectiveness,” a year-end report said.