Cities Turn Spring 2013 Pothole Repair into a Special Event

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Citizen reporting becoming a seasonal rite

 

Owing perhaps to a certain mentality that says “fix it now,” several American cities are approaching pothole repair in the spring of 2013 as a special event. Maybe it’s just another version of spring cleaning. Or, perhaps it is due to the fact that the mild winter of 2011-2012 allowed some reprieve with the return of harsher snow, rain and freeze-thaw cycle conditions in the 2012-2013 season.

Chicago, Washington D.C., Oakland (California) and Colorado Springsall decided to name their efforts at fixing bad pavement with the suffix “–palooza.” The Chicago Department of Transportation declared the weekend of April 5 its three-day festival for citizen reporting on the asphalt craters as “Potholepalooza,” asking motorists and other citizens to text, phone (3-1-1), click on the city website or use the SeeClickFix or ChicagoWorks phone apps. Following that, city crews went about the job of pothole repairs. Already 116,000 potholes had been repaired in the previous month. Potholepalooza Chicago-style involved at least 20,000 repaired potholes in the first week of April alone.

Washington, D.C. has claimed the “Potholepalooza” title since 2009, with its focus also on responding to citizen requests in a concentrated period of time. The nation’s capital might be a center for disagreement and dissent, but the District Department of Transportation managed to address 21,000 such road divots and cracks in April, responding in just 48 hours instead of the usual promise to address them in 72 hours.

Not to be outdone, Oakland, California’s pothole problems gets their own version of a “pothole palooza,” according to the Silicon Valley MercuryNews.com, when between April 29 and June 6 the city will be particularly attentive to citizen reporting on pavement problems. The news site’s columnist recruits participation among readers, saying “we don’t want [late night host David] Letterman telling fans they can ride a burro to the bottom of our potholes.”

Colorado Springs’s pothole palooza was a six-week affair, also centered around the idea of citizen reporting. “There’s a massive amount of roadway,” said a city spokesperson, because “we can’t be everywhere.” The city has a crew of 94 people who work on street maintenance, which included 28,821 potholes in 2012. The earlier winter months of 2013 were mild, but a combination of the city’s aging street system and more moisture in March seems to have pushed up the degree of road deterioration for this year nonetheless.

The Missouri Department of Transportation uses the descriptive “Missouri Pothole Patrol” in Aprilto trumpet its fast attention to pavement cracks, bulges and crevices. As in Chicago and D.C., the emphasis is on citizen reporting: “We need the public’s help to spot these potholes and let us know where they are,” says Elizabeth Wright, the state maintenance engineer with MoDOT. “We want to encourage our customers to contact us any time they see something of concern.”

LongIsland.com reports that severe storms – Hurricane Sandy and Winter Storm Nemo – are responsible for a “dramatic rise in the number and severity of potholes on our roadways,” says the website’s reporter. One person interviewed in Smithtown, New York said the potholes plaguing their neighborhood “are more than just an inconvenience – they’re a potentially lethal hazard to motorcyclists and motorists alike.” Others interviewed on Long Island used colorful terms to describe conditions: “the ‘WORST’ road,” “potholes big enough to fit an entire tire…the road should be condemned and shut down,” certain roads look “like they were testing dynamite on them” and “it’s like a third-world country…like driving down a bombed-out road.”

Town by town, the problems on Long Island are being addressed: Babylon, New York had a pothole blitz in March, while Islip purchased an asphalt crusher for pavement recycling. Smithtown approved a measure to fund pothole repairs and road improvements in 2013 with $8 million.

To the south of the Island and with much known damage from Hurricane Sandy, SILive.com provides updates on potholes for Staten Island via a mysterious character known as “Pothole Patty.” Appearing only as an inert garden gnome, Pothole Patty writes reports on storm recovery to the borough, which is ongoing and incomplete as of April.

Meanwhile, up the east coast in Amherst, Massachusetts, the Department of Public Works reports a relatively small number of potholes (about 1,000) waiting for their pothole doctors. A spokesman for the DPW says the unseasonably harsh spring weather has delayed their ability to complete repairs.

While the freeze-thaw cycles that make late winter the most damaging times for roadways – as the weather fluctuates between winter and spring and temperatures sometimescross the 32-degrees F (0 degrees C) several times within a day – there still are plenty of potholes found in semi-tropical and tropical locations as well. This because moisture alone can lead to pavement deterioration, as does the wear and tear of traffic and the aging of roads. Heat too leads to potholes.