Streets: How the City Manages Potholes

Wherever anyone drives in Philadelphia, potholes always seem to get brought up in conversation. Commuters hate them and, according to Robyn Briggs from PennDOT, the state of Pennsylvania has spent nearly $5 million repairing potholes in Philadelphia so far in 2019.

“Potholes are annoying,” said one frustrated driver, Lora McGinnis, after she drove into the parking lot outside the Fresh Grocer on Cecil B. Moore Avenue to deal with a flat tire she just suffered from a pothole.

“They surprise me, they hurt my back, and potentially my car,” she said. “They’re a pain in the neck and they cause traffic jams all the time, even when they’re being filled.”

The City, however, makes it easy to report potholes. Residents can call 311 for a range of services, though street issues rarely are reported that way. According to the Pew Charitable Trust’s 2019 State of The City Report, service requests made through 311 over the past decade have been mostly focused on housing maintenance, illegal dumping, and rubbish collection, each having over 200,000 requests. Issues such as street light outages, graffiti removal, and pothole and ditch repairs are at the bottom of the list. The City spends 18 percent of its annual budget on streets.

“There are a few different ways it can be done actually,” said Keisha McCarty-Skelton, a representative of the Philadelphia Streets Department.

“Majority of requests are made online, on our website, but we also get a number of calls, emails and even some requests through social media,” she said. “We even have some people come into our offices on their lunch breaks to talk about their issues, whether it be potholes, trash collection, or whatever the case may be.”

The City provides an online form for residents to report potholes for repair. Residents can drag a pin over a digital map of the city and place it where repair is needed. Users are asked to describe the hole, provide their name and contact information, and add a photo of the pothole. Residents also have the option of making a request either public or private.

“Potholes are so hazardous,” said Kate O’Connor, a Philadelphia resident. “Basically, everywhere I go in Pennsylvania I find myself dodging potholes. My parents always joke, asking where their tax dollars are going instead of fixing potholes in Philadelphia and the surrounding areas.”

According to Pew’s State of the City Report, Streets Department spending is the third largest area of capital spending in the city budget. In 2018, the state of Pennsylvania spent an additional $9 million patching potholes in Philadelphia, using nearly 18 tons of asphalt to do so.

Nick Karaolis, a construction contractor who has many years of experience in street maintenance, said that fixing potholes is “easy work” and that a crew could “knock out 2-6 potholes a day depending on the crew.”

Fixing a pothole is easier than some may think.

“To fix a pothole, you need to saw cut around the pothole, rip it out, fill the hole with stone around two to four inches below the existing asphalt, then tamp the stone down make it level,” he said. “After that, bring in hot asphalt, pour it in the hole, then tamp the asphalt down and make it level with the old asphalt. You can probably knock it out in two to four hours I would say.”

He said that the worst part of the job is having to direct traffic around the work site.

“People will complain about potholes all the time, but mostly that’s all they do,” he said.

All it takes is a few clicks to get the ball rolling.

“Simply request that it gets fixed, that takes five minutes to do, if that,” Karaolis added.

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1 Comment

  1. Interesting that this article says absolutely nothing about how long it takes the street crews to get out and fix a particular pothole once the report/request has been made!

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