Oklahoma is just south enough to be outside the Snow Belt – i.e., it may snow, but not at the epic levels seen in Minneapolis and Chicago – however, that doesn’t mean places like Oklahoma City don’t get their share of potholes. The amount of rain, traffic and freeze-thaw cycles in the region still causes plenty of cracks, crevices, chuckholes and pavement divots.
Statewide, the average annual cost-per-vehicle from damage due to roads in poor condition is $457, according to TRIP (a national transportation research group which researches surface transportation issues). In Oklahoma City, those costs rise to $631 per vehicle (for comparison, in Los Angeles it is $746, Omaha $592 and Philadelphia $525). These costs are incurred when bumpy pavement causes flat tires, bent wheel rims, broken axels, broken suspension systems and lost or cracked catalytic converters.
Oklahoma City Public Works Director Eric Wenger does what they can to keep bad roads at bay. In addition to crack sealing and resurfacing crews, the city maintains 12 dedicated vehicles and crews to fill potholes that populate 7500 lane miles of paved roads in the city. “We are one of the largest cities by land in the country,” says Wenger. “That is 621 square miles.”
These 2-workman crews are at work 12 months out of the year because the climate conditions cause no seasonal concentrations of potholes, rather just a steady emergence of them. The city has a system for fixing potholes that combines citizen reporting with what road crews themselves see. Phone calls into the pothole hotline are compiled and assigned to road crews, whose goal is to fix them within three days of receiving the report.
Additionally, overall pavement quality is maintained by monitoring all streets with a truck-mounted electronic device that can read the quality of the road surface. This information helps the department of public works to determine where crack sealing and microsurfacing are needed (the city resurfaces about 100 miles of roads each year). When a paved surface rates a Pavement Condition Index (PCI) of 40 or less, it is scheduled for repair, resurfacing or reconstruction.
Pothole repairs cost money, save money
Oklahoma City allocates about $1.2 million for pothole repairs, and has 221,892 registered vehicles within the city. Additionally, the city is a hub to regional commerce and therefore draws in many more vehicles on a daily basis. If the total number of vehicles that regularly ply the streets of Oklahoma City is 300,000 – just a guess – that means the allocation of pothole-fixing dollars is $4 per vehicle.
Factoring in also the car-saving value of crack sealing, micro-resurfacing and other methods for maintaining smooth pavement, the total amount spent on road maintenance in 2010 was $9.388 million, or about $31.29 per vehicle. Compared to the cost to fix vehicles per year due to rough roads ($631), those road repairs still appear to be a relative bargain.
How important are these expenditures? The city annually surveys residents on their opinions about how the municipality is run and where dollars might be best allocated. The 2011 Oklahoma City DirectionFinder® Survey identified that residents ranked as number one the maintenance of city streets, followed by traffic flow and the quality of police services. Among survey respondents, 56 percent said that the condition of major city streets was their first, second or third choice for city maintenance projects.
“We have no major public transportation service to speak of here,” explains Wenger (a bus system does provide 3 million rides annually). “Almost everyone drives.”