Mild Va. winter frees up money for pothole repairs and more

FAIRFAX, Va. — Potholes pester Northern Virginia drivers each spring, but this year there is a little more money available for road maintenance in the region thanks to a mild winter.

“Snow is king,” said Todd Robson, the Northern Virginia infrastructure manager for the Virginia Department of Transportation.

“When we don’t have a lot of snow, we’re able to get more maintenance-types of things done, so that’s a good thing when it comes to drainage, when it comes to pavement. Grass is going to grow much quicker, so we’re going to be having a lot of mowing … guardrail (installation and repairs),” he said. “And we’ve got good portions of money that we’ll be able to sink into a lot of those things.”

A final tally for how much money the Robson’s region saved on road salt and snow removal was not available on Monday.

For repaving and pothole repairs, his team prioritizes roads based on how bad the pavement is and how heavily the road is traveled.

“Typically we’re focused on the most needy within a lot of these areas. We prioritize, obviously, from interstates all the way down,” he said.

Maryland and D.C. similarly use money not spent on snow and ice removal for other maintenance efforts.

The number of roads that will be completely repaved won’t change however. VDOT released this map showing roads set to be paved this year:


With a division covering Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties, Robson said there are lots of potholes to deal with.

“The good thing is we didn’t have a lot of snow, so you didn’t have a lot of that penetration from ice and cold and the flexibility within the pavement, so we don’t have a lot of potholes out there. But we are reacting to a lot of them,” Robson said. “It’s very overwhelming this time of the year, especially when we get a lot of these springtime rains with it warming up, and then we get aggressive when it comes to patching, potholing and getting out there and ensuring that, you know, we have a good smooth road surface.”

A quick patch on a pothole that simply involves putting an asphalt mix in the hole and rolling it down might last one to three months, and is meant to buy time for crews to put a longer-term fix in if the money and time is available for the later work.

A so-called “pothole killer” machine can put in a patch that lasts a bit longer than a regular cold mix patch by creating a better bond between the new and old asphalt.

Ultimately though, Robson said the ideal fix for potholes is to cut out a square area of the road surface to complete a better, more regular paving job that is designed to last for up to a year.

“But it’s a lot of inventory when it comes to potholes and a lot of inventory out there when it comes to the number of lane-miles we have here in Northern Virginia,” Robson said, so not every pothole receives the ideal treatment.

Drivers can flag potholes or other pavement problems for VDOT by calling 800-FOR-ROAD or submitting a request online at

Weather response

When a heavy rainstorm like the one last week that dropped tornadoes across the region moves through, VDOT teams spring into action to clear drains and clear downed trees.

Robson describes the reaction as something like a fire department, with crews trying to keep drivers safe.

But when the rain stops and the water clears, crews are able to return to preventive work like installing drainage pipes beneath or next to roads. Those pipes can extend the life of the pavement and reduce potholes or other cracking by keeping water from eroding the road from below.

Right now, instead of installing large metal pipes in some of the projects, Robson said crews use lighter plastic pipes or, in tighter spaces, elliptical concrete pipes.

“We’re finding that a lot of our corrugated metal pipes now are rusting in the ground, and they’re not lasting 10, 12, 20 years. Our concrete and our plastic (last) 50 to 100 years, so we’re having real good results with a lot of the pipes we’re putting in right now, and the crews are rocking it,” Robson said.

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