Council to examine D.C.’s pothole efforts

WASHINGTON — The condition of the District’s roads and the responsiveness to complaints about needed patchwork will be the subject of a council hearing Tuesday.

After a particularly harsh winter, roads from the Midwest to the Mid-Atlantic turned into a maze of potholes.

The District Department of Transportation alone has already filled more than 40,000 potholes this year. The annual Potholepalooza campaign filled nearly 12,000 potholes.

But has it been sufficient to keep drivers, buses and cyclists from going thumpety-thump-thump?

Council member Mary Cheh, Ward 3, wants to know how DDOT assesses the road conditions and what it’s doing to improve them. During the long holiday weekend, she went to a block party in Cleveland Park. One resident pressed her about street repairs.

Cheh looked around at the stretch of road and said “it was like the surface of the moon.”

Acting DDOT Director Matthew Brown will go before the Committee on Transportation and the Environment on Tuesday. Cheh says she wants to know about the process of determining which roads are repaved and when.

Even after tens of thousands of pothole patches, residents have called her office about sorry road conditions. A cyclist herself, she calls some roads “unacceptable.”


A section of 38th Street in Northwest shows its battle scars. Council member Mary Cheh says she has seen some conditions that look like "the surface of the moon." (WTOP/Andrew Mollenbeck)

But she says she’s more concerned about the perception that DDOT has not been as responsive as it should be to tips about specific trouble spots.

One email in particular claimed the resident had filled out an online form on DDOT’s web site, emailed and called, only to get a voice mail box that was full for months on end. Still, no love for the rough road.

Cheh plans to read that email at the hearing.

“This unresponsiveness is so frustrating, it’s almost demoralizing for the public when that happens,” she says. “I want DDOT to tell me what better way people can identify areas that need work, and how they can be responsive and accountable to people.”

The committee chair says she has no problem if DDOT informs residents it is aware of a particular rough patch and explains a time frame that requires some patience.

But allegations of unresponsiveness are troubling.

“I want to know how they are responding to constituent complaints and how they can do better,” she says. “I hear not only are the roads in disrepair, but citizens can’t get through [to DDOT].”

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