Where you live in Minneapolis matters for pothole fixes

  • Article by: MAYA RAO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 5, 2014 - 10:55 AM

City officials said the same resources are deployed to each part of the city, and any differences are due to varying practices among crews in filing paperwork showing which potholes they filled.

Tired of rumbling over potholes on her way to work, Allison Schaumburg of north Minneapolis began taking a different route just to avoid them.

“I’m sure if a police officer was behind me they would think I’m drunk, because I’m weaving around and around” trying to avoid the craters on 2nd Street, she said. “It’s absolutely insane.”

As Minneapolis faces an explosion of demands to repair pockmarked roads after a harsh winter, a Star Tribune analysis of more than 17,000 requests to fill potholes over the last five years shows wide disparities among different areas of the city.

The analysis found that Minneapolis reported it had addressed pothole repair requests made to the city’s 311 hot line nearly twice as fast in its wealthiest areas in the south — where it received the most calls from citizens — as it did in the heavily traveled Downtown West neighborhood.

Records show that Minneapolis also reported resolving pothole complaints much more slowly in lower-income areas in the north and northeast parts of the city, where residents made fewer calls.

“I’m startled and I’m appalled. … I can tell you that my sense is there are not fewer potholes in north Minneapolis than other places,” said Council Member Blong Yang, who represents the North Side.

Public-works officials said they deploy the same resources to each part of the city, and they attribute the differences to varying practices among street-repair crews in filing paperwork showing which potholes they filled. Some crews, for example, wait to report pothole repairs in batches.

The crews are often familiar with where repairs are needed “and try to approach it a little more systematically and strategically. We don’t want to be jumping around on 311 calls,” said Mike Kennedy, the city’s director of transportation maintenance and repair.

Kennedy said he doesn’t know why residents in the southwest and Lake Nokomis areas of the city call in with more complaints than anywhere else, but he doesn’t believe their streets have more potholes than other parts of the city.

Records from 311 reports were never meant to be analyzed for repair rates, the city said. A request can be closed for reasons other than fixing the pothole, such as passing it on to the county if a pothole is on a county road or determining that the area of the pothole is already scheduled for broader street repair work that year, officials said. Crews also fix potholes that do not originate from a 311 request, but the city does not keep track of those repairs.

Even so, the city is taking a second look at its methods.

Responding to the Star Tribune’s findings, public works director Steve Kotke said his department will now look at standardizing the way crews report fixing potholes.

More repair money

Cities throughout Minnesota are scrambling to keep up with pothole repair and how to pay for the surge.

This winter’s high number of subzero days and constant snowfall stymied repair crews, sometimes sending them back to potholes they had filled days earlier. Auto repair shops say they are seeing an unusual increase in business as cars roll in with punctured tires, bent rims, and damaged shocks and suspensions.

Potholes form when water seeps into cracks in the road, expanding in freezing temperatures, then contracting as temperatures thaw. Those areas crumble even more as cars repeatedly bounce over them. Officials said that because older pavement is more prone to potholes, the city has been resurfacing and sealing more roads so that they are less likely to break down in winter.

On Tuesday, the Minneapolis City Council’s Transportation and Public Works Committee approved an extra $1 million for pothole repair, a day after St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman lamented the damage done by potholes in his annual State of the City address. Legislators also have considered extra funding for cities to repair roads.

Mayor Betsy Hodges said the additional funds in Minneapolis will double and in some cases triple the city’s pothole repair efforts, paying for more repair crews and a pothole patching contractor. The city now sends one repair crew to a southern district, one to a district spanning the north and northeast areas, and several more downtown.

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