DC-295 reopened after cars get stuck in wet tar

Did the application process during repaving cause the wet tar that disabled several vehicles, which led to the closing of a section of D.C. 295 between Benning Road and East Capitol Street?

That’s what the D.C. Department of Transportation thinks happened Wednesday afternoon. The left lane reopened before 9 p.m. Wednesday evening, and DDOT Deputy Director Sharon Kershbaum said during a news conference that the rest of the repaving will happen overnight.

Construction activity had cleared and the southbound lanes on DC-295 between East Capitol Street and Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue NE reopened to traffic after 5:30 a.m. Thursday.

The materials used in repaving are fairly typical, Kershbaum said. “We actually think that there may have been an issue with the application and not actually the materials. We need to investigate it. We’re going to pause the use until we understand exactly what it was.”

An investigation will need to be done, but DDOT believes an interim material that gets put down before the asphalt — called a void reducing asphalt membrane — may have been the issue.

“We think that’s the material. Again, not sure if it’s the content of it or the application or what exactly is the root cause, but that’s the problem. It wasn’t the actual asphalt that went on top. The two sections of the two lanes that had been repaved were fine,” Kershbaum said.

Dave Dildine, in the WTOP Traffic Center, called the event a “major work zone failure,” and said drivers are telling him they’ve suffered tire damage, including punctures, due to asphalt and tar clumping to their tires after, “skidding through the work zone.”

There were no injuries reported; however, there were about a dozen vehicles that seemed to have some materials from the roadway that were sticking to the tires, Kershbaum said.

CLICK TO EXPAND: Tires are picking up wet asphalt on D.C. 295. (Courtesy Soomin Kim)

Uber driver Paul Johnson told WTOP’s Kate Ryan that he went through the construction zone just before East Capitol at about 11:30 a.m., and he ran over “this kind of gooey asphalt stuff. … It clumps onto your tires, and it starts acting like an adhesive. It picks up all the debris in the streets.”

He said there were already 10 to 12 trucks and cars pulled over, disabled.

Johnson said he was going around a 25 mph curve when “I lost traction, and my rear wheels started sliding to the side.” He said some of the asphalt “burned off on its own,” but it took about four hours of constant driving.

Kershbaum said a truck is going over the roadway to “really crush all the residual materials off, and making sure that there’s nothing sticky that’s still there that could cause a problem.”

“And we’re then driving over it with our DDOT cars to see if there’s any sort of anything about the surface that’s either uneven or sticking. So, we think we’re close because it seems to be getting better and better,” Kershbaum said.

The focus, she added, is getting the roadway reopened. In the meantime, drivers were diverted off D.C. 295

“So they would be exiting on off of East Capitol. We cycle around here, and you can see the diverted cars behind us, and then they’re going right back on to 295. Right here. So it’s really just the segment — it’s the bridge over East Capitol that’s still closed down,” Kershbaum said.

About two miles of the expressway’s southbound lanes were initially closed Wednesday afternoon.

WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report.

Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2013 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He's the author of "A Walking Tour of the Georgetown Set" and "I Got a Song: A History of the Newport Folk Festival."

Abigail Constantino

Abigail Constantino started her journalism career writing for a local newspaper in Fairfax County, Virginia. She is a graduate of American University and The George Washington University.

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