Record rainfall worsened DC’s pothole problems — costly settlements included

WASHINGTON — With more potholes piling up across the District, and about a third of local roads already in poor condition, the city is struggling to keep up with fixes due in large part to last year’s record rainfall.

“We lost 45 full days during our paving season due to the rain,” District Department of Transportation Director Jeff Marootian told the D.C. Council’s Committee on Transportation and the Environment earlier this week.

“We are seeing the devastating impact of the record rainfall as we are seeing more potholes and flooding issues than usual,” Marootian said Monday.

The potholes and other problems led to numerous complaints and financial settlements over the last year, with drivers and even pedestrians who tripped and fell. 

Pothole complaints to the city are about three times higher now than the same time a year ago, Marootian said.

“I do not think there’s satisfaction anywhere with the condition of the roads, not just this season, but in seasons past,” said D.C. Council member Mary Cheh.

She raised concerns that the number of potholes reported filled in the last budget year was lower than two years before, although it was a significant increase from the intervening year.

Cheh’s experience is that main roads in Maryland are holding up better than D.C.’s. “It’s sometimes night and day,” she said.

The District rates 55 percent of its 472 miles of federal roads as being in good or excellent condition, 25 percent as fair and 18 percent as poor.

About 40 percent of 698 miles of local streets are rated good or excellent, while 27 percent are rated fair and 32 percent are rated poor.

DDOT spent $22.5 million on federal roads, and $24.6 million on local paving and pothole repairs in the budget year that ended Sept. 30, plus additional work on alleys and sidewalks.

The city hopes a long-term paving plan could put things on the right track within a few years.

“The goal … is to get on a regular maintenance schedule so that we’re not in this position ever again,” Marootian said. “It’s going to take us five years to get out of the hole that we’re in.”

Many major roads slated for repairs need to be rebuilt from the ground up, not just resurfaced on top. More pothole filling work is planned in spring when conditions are warmer and drier, and when crews are not busy with other responsibilities such as dealing with snow.

In the budget year that ended Sept. 30, the city paid out thousands in settlements or compensation for pothole problems or other paving issues.

Dozens of settlements for drivers who hit potholes and successfully showed that it caused damage to their cars ranged from a few hundred dollars to $24,000 — and that was only cases that did not involve legal action.

Slips and falls, or sidewalk-related incidents, also led to settlements worth more than $1,000.

Cases that went to court sometimes took longer to reach settlements, but also included some more serious incidents.

Settlements reached in court cases over the last budget year include $25,000 for a person who fell in a pothole in a crosswalk near Farragut Square in November 2010, and $230,000 for a person who tripped and fell in a Columbia Heights crosswalk in August 2015.

There was also $500,000 for a woman hit by a tree limb in 2012 while walking along Connecticut Avenue in Cleveland Park; $125,000 for a man tossed from his motorcycle when he hit a pothole on Foxhall Road Northwest in 2015; and $12,000 for a passenger in a car that hit a pothole on Kenilworth Avenue Northeast then crashed into a guardrail.

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