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Potholes are popping up around the Washington metro region after record-breaking rain last year and cold temperatures so far in 2019. AAA Mid-Atlantic said this is the worst road season since Snowmageddon.

Fort Myer Construction’s quality control lab is working with on the science behind preventing potholes. The lab in Northeast Washington is like a big kitchen. It has blenders, mixing bowls and warm ovens.

“A client will give you a recipe and you make it?” asked ABC7 reporter Victoria Sanchez.

“Right. Whether he wants a sugar cookie or chocolate chips,” said David Love, asphalt general manager.

The ingredients are sand instead of sugar and stones instead of chips. The finished product is asphalt.

Before the asphalt becomes the road, Fort Myer Construction crews follow recipes created by transportation agency clients based on the conditions the paved road will face. The technicians are like chefs.

“Has to look good, that’s the Julia Child of it, but the Gordon Ramsey, it has to taste good, it has to be good,” said Love.

Before the asphalt is served up, it’s tested.

“There’s a lot more detail than people would imagine,” said James Fauntleroy, a quality control technician.

The time-consuming testing process ensures the right combination is being mixed for a long-lasting road. As large trucks are filled, a bucket is filled with a sample of the material and brought back to the lab.

In one test, the mixed asphalt is compacted into a dense cylinder, simulating what a steamroller would do on the road. The sample is tested for durability and air pockets.

“You don’t want too much air because you get water that seeps inside, you get water that freezes and thaws and it will ruin your highway. But you do need some air, you need air inside. In the summertime, asphalt expands, you need room for expansion. In the wintertime, it contracts,” explained Fauntleroy.

The freeze-thaw cycle during the winter months contributes to potholes and commuters’ headaches. It’s all about balance so the roads survive the thousands of daily drivers and ever-changing weather conditions.

“Years ago, they would throw rocks together, throw asphalt together and say, ‘There it is,’” said Love.

The current process has become more sophisticated with updated mixes, quality control, application and assessment. The methods are constantly changing to ensure smooth sailing when the rubber hits the road.

“So, you could be driving in, drinking a cup of coffee, and not hit a bump and spill it,” said Love.

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