Interstate 295 (I-295)

Hot Tar Traffic Mess: Officials Search for Answers After DC-295 Jam

D.C. accepts responsibility for a mishap that left drivers stuck in hot tar on DC-295 before rush hour Wednesday evening, Mayor Muriel Bowser said

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Drivers got stuck in hot, sticky tar on DC-295 ahead of Wednesday evening’s rush hour, leading to miles-long traffic jams and 15 hours of lane closures.

Chunks of wet tar and asphalt caked onto cars’ tires and got stuck in the wheel beds.

Drivers who needed help with the gunk began pulling in to Million Man Tires on Benning Road NE one by one, an employee said. He told them it would be cheaper to buy new tires than to try to clean up the mess. A number of loose tires could be seen at the shop, coated with a thick layer of dried asphalt.

So, what went wrong? The District Department of Transportation is searching for answers. 

Tar around a tire
NBC4 Washington
A driver holds a ball of tar that was attached to his vehicle.

Deputy Director Sharon Kershbaum said the focus is on the application of a product used to seal joints in roadways. Crews put it down before they put down asphalt. 

“We think it was the application itself and not the materials — something about how it was applied. But, honestly, we need to look into it further. This has never happened before,” Kershbaum said. 

News4 reached out to Fort Myer Construction Corporation, the contractor doing the work, but they did not immediately respond.

D.C. accepts responsibility for the problem, Mayor Muriel Bowser said. 

“My initial feedback was that there was a misapplied material, but I have to dig in to that a little bit more,” she said Thursday. 

Officials from the D.C. Department of Transportation say the search for answers about what caused the tires of a dozen cars to become caked with sticky asphalt as they drove along a newly paved section of I-295 is underway. News4's Jackie Bensen reports.

The D.C. Office of Risk Management is accepting complaints from drivers whose tires were coated in the tar.

A portion of southbound DC-295 was first closed at about 2:30 p.m. Wednesday. All lanes were back open 15 hours later, at 5:30 a.m. Thursday.

Work to determine the cause of the problem is ongoing.

At least five people were hurt on DC-295 nearly a year ago, when a truck struck a pedestrian bridge and it crashed down onto the roadway.

Stay with NBC Washington for more details on this developing story. 

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