State works quickly to patch U.S. 50; work continues tonight

Highway crews are scheduled to complete work Monday night on a temporary patch of eastbound U.S. 50 that was buckled by 11 days of intense heat.

A 50-foot-long crack squiggled across three left lanes near U.S. 301 in Prince George's County on Sunday afternoon, forcing officials to shut down all but the right lane and the shoulder to motorists. The break lifted one slab of concrete and reduced another piece to rubble.

"It was less dramatic than it sounds, but clearly, we had to take traffic off of it," said David Buck, spokesman for the State Highway Administration.

Small cracks and lumps are commonplace during a hot spell, especially on heat-absorbing blacktop, but a fissure of this magnitude developing in lighter-colored concrete is "a rarity," Buck said.

Buck said pavement temperatures reached more than 130 degrees and broke down the concrete "from the bottom up. We had a 125-degree difference from six months ago. When you add the hundreds of thousands of vehicles it handles, that's a lot to take."

A contractor arrived and began work shortly before 9 p.m. Sunday to remove the damaged section and replace it with a temporary asphalt patch, work that was finished at 4 a.m. in a driving rain.

Monday night, the crews will shave down the asphalt to make the surface smoother. Highway engineers are planning to replace the asphalt with a more permanent concrete patch in the coming weeks, Buck said.

The work will be timed to cause minimum disruptions to rush hour and beach traffic.

Weather-related problems — from last fall's tropical storm damage to this year's punishing heat — are impossible to anticipate, Buck said. The state conducts annual inspections of all its roads to determine their health and establish a repair schedule to help reduce the risk of major highway breakdowns.

"We hope that's a reflection of the proactive paving we do," Buck said. "We'd like to think that it's paying off."

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