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Los Angeles’ Operation Pothole – A Business Development Strategy

By August 9, 2011July 8th, 2014No Comments

On July 16 and 17 (2011), much of the country was riveted on “Carmageddon,” an orchestrated shutdown of ten miles of I-405 (the San Diego Freeway) between I-10 (Santa Monica Freeway) and US-101 (Ventura Freeway). Caltrans, the California state highways department in charge of the highway and repairs, conducted this major project over the two-day weekend to ultimately improve traffic flow with HOV (high occupancy vehicles) lanes, improve bridges, realign off ramps, widen underpasses and add retaining and sound walls. The marathon road-repair weekend was deemed a success – in traffic management and infrastructure improvement – and actually concluded several hours ahead of schedule.

But Carmageddon comes on the heels of two separate, massive and successful pothole projects conducted earlier in the year on City of Los Angeles-managed streets. “Operation Pothole,” (OP) conducted on weekends in January 2011 and again in June 2011, cumulatively filled 39,811 potholes. While not garnering nearly as much national attention, OP has made driving more safe and comfortable and less costly for motorists and businesses alike in LA. had a chance to speak with Nazario Sauceda, assistant director in the Bureau of Street Services, Department of Public Works for the City of Los Angeles. He shares with us what they did, the special tools they worked with to repair pavement, the goals of the city relative to pothole-free pavement – and why potholes seem to be a source of fascination with Angelenos. How bad is the pothole situation in Los Angeles?

Sauceda: We have 300,000 potholes we would like to fix this year on the 28,000 lane miles of Los Angeles roads and streets. Potholes have a high degree of visibility, but in fact we approach pavement in three ways: employment of a pavement management system, maintenance and rehabilitation. Tell us what those three pavement approaches involve.

Sauceda: Our pavement management system is how we measure and prioritize our maintenance program. At its core is our “micropaver,” a van that captures information on street conditions, block by block, with the use of high-definition cameras and lasers that measure smoothness, all of which is computerized and fed to technicians for analysis. Streets are then categorized by PCI – our pavement condition index – and plotted on a map. As a manager, I can then ask, “What are the consequences of neglect of this street?”

With this information, we can then determine where to do parts two and three, maintenance – which involves pothole repair, but also the use of slurry and crack sealers – or resurfacing and reconstruction where the roads are in worse shape. Our goal is to prevent reconstruction, as that costs five to seven times more money than maintenance. If you assign this PCI number to your streets, where do your scores fall?

Sauceda: On a scale of 1 to 100, 100 being perfect, the micropaver has found our streets to be an average of 62. We consider this to be a C-minus score. But you seem to be on track to raise that score.

Sauceda: Improving on our PCI is a major goal of Mayor [Antonio] Villaraigosa. He wants to stop pavement deterioration with a steady attack on our PCI because this is a mayor who understands preservation versus resurfacing and reconstruction. He saw how our first Operation Pothole (in January) was so successful that he said to repeat it. Why is the mayor so concerned about potholes?

Sauceda: The Mayor’s priority is economic development. Many business developers are now looking at downtown LA, where the streets have to be good to attract new business. He knows that streets also represent an important part of the quality of life. The micropaver cannot measure all your streets at one time, and we all know that potholes can pop up in a day. How do you know where the current potholes are?

Sauceda: We depend on citizens calling 3-1-1 with their pothole reports. And prior to the first Operation Pothole, we asked 85 certified community groups to get involved and report the conditions of streets in their neighborhoods, which they did. How much do your pothole needs exceed the budget for preservation?

Sauceda: We would need $2.5 billion to restore all our streets to very good condition. We are pretty sure we can reach there in ten years if we use intelligent tools.  That includes using recycled asphalt, cold-in-place recycling, slurry sealing – all the maintenance tools. And pothole filling.

Sauceda: Yes, definitely pothole filling. But it’s a funny thing about potholes. They get all the attention. We have the micropaver, we were the first city in the nation to recycle pavement cold-in-place, and those things don’t get the media coverage that we get with potholes.  And note, representatives from Japan, from Russia and Europe and South America come here to see our model – because it works.

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