This has been a terrible, terrible year for potholes. We’ve all experienced it — I’m no exception — and it’s no comfort to know that every city in the metro area is facing the same problem. Driving conditions on some busy streets are downright awful, so I’m writing to tell you about three things: 1) what we’re doing right now in Minneapolis to fix this problem, 2) how we prioritize patching potholes — and what you can do to help us, and 3) what we’re doing to improve and extend the life of our roads in the long term.
1) What we’re doing right now
We’ve been doing temporary patching of potholes for several weeks now, but thanks to the recent good weather and the early availability of hot asphalt, we’ve started permanent patching this week. Just as the underlying reason for this year’s potholes was the exceptional Christmas Day weather (snow followed by rain followed by a long freeze with no intermittent thawing), so the relatively early full thaw that we’ve had over the past week or so has allowed us to start permanent patching earlier than normal. (In most years, we’re not able to start permanent patching until April.)
We know, however, that the demand for patching potholes is great, so even as we shift some crews to permanent patching, we’re keeping other crews doing temporary patches in order to reach as many potholes as we can as quickly as we can. Permanent patches are more durable but take longer to make, while temporary patches can be made quickly but don’t hold as long. So we’re trying to strike a balance between speed and quality.
(Check out the P.S. if you’d like to know more about the difference between temporary and permanent patches to potholes, and why and how we make them.)
2) How we prioritize, and how you can help
For public-works purposes, we divide the City into three districts. The supervisors of each district are on constant alert for road conditions that need repair and are constantly updating and revising their priorities. When it comes to prioritizing potholes, they weigh both the severity and the location of the pothole. Understandably, the most serious ones on the busiest streets get patched the fastest.
Unfortunately, however, potholes pop up without notice, especially at this time of year — which is where you come in. If you see a pothole that you want the City to know about, call 311 or go online to the 311 page of the City’s Web site. When you do this, it helps our Public Works Department get the full picture of the need and prioritize repairs, even if other potholes have to take priority over the one that you reported.
As we transition away from temporary patching to permanent patching, our crews will in most cases be focusing pothole repair on major arterial streets that carry high volumes of traffic, and will move onto residential streets later in the season.
3) What we’re doing in the long term
Making sure that it’s easy and safe to travel on our streets isn’t just a matter of fixing bad conditions when they arise — it’s also a matter of planning ahead and building better, safer roads for the long term. That’s just what we’re doing with the City’s Accelerated Infrastructure Program.
Through the Accelerated Infrastructure Program, which the City Council passed in 2008, we will resurface or sealcoat one-third of all City-owned arterial streets by 2013. In 2009, the first full year of the program, we resurfaced or sealcoated 41 miles of arterials, with the program directly responsible for improving 27 of those miles. And it’s already paid off: we’ve had no serious pothole problems on any of the streets that we improved last year.
This year, we will resurface or sealcoat a similar number of miles of major arterial streets in Minneapolis. Making this kind of focused, long-term investment in our infrastructure will not only keep our streets from developing any serious pothole problems in the near future, it will extend their life significantly. And it will not only put people to work immediately, it will further set the stage for job growth and economy development in the long term.
We’re hard at work fixing the really bad pothole problem. I appreciate your help in letting us know when problems pop up, and I hope you soon start noticing significant improvements.