Pothole Blues

By ANTHONY WARREN,

Manpower and money hurting city’s efforts to repair streets

Jackson’s long-planned assault on potholes is less an assault and more an attempt to dip water out of a bucket with a teaspoon.

Last fall, city officials said they had fallen behind on repairing potholes largely because of broken down equipment.

They expected the equipment to be repaired by January, with public works planning an all-out pothole blitz once the machines were back in use.

However, repairs were delayed and the attack was called off because of a lack of funding.

Only now, weeks later, is some of the equipment, including a roughly four-year-old pothole patcher purchased by the city in 2015, expected to come back out on the streets.

Even with that patcher in use, city officials say the pothole problem won’t be going away overnight.

“It’s going to help, but we have quite a few streets in disarray,” said Engineering Manager Charles Williams. “We can’t expect to catch up overnight.”

Potholes, which have been a problem for years, are becoming more of a dilemma for motorists and city officials, and more prevalent as streets continue to deteriorate.

Jackson is addressing them as quickly as possible, but has been hamstrung by a small workforce, a lack of resources, and broken equipment. The heavy rains as of late have also exacerbated the problem, with water causing new potholes to form and existing ones to get worse. 

Last spring, Jackson allocated $4 million in one-percent funds for road repaving and pothole repairs. However, because of cost-overruns on the repaving side, no potholes were repaired.

Seeking relief, some residents have taken matters into their own hands, filling potholes themselves.

On average, city crews repair about 800 potholes a month. The number is down from the 2,000 the city was filling just a few years ago.

“The city also had more people,” Williams said, referring to road crew members.

Today, Jackson has fewer than 20 people on its road crew, individuals who spend each day filling potholes and fixing utility cuts.

“We’re trying to do some paving and we’ll try to do some this spring, but that’s going to be a challenge,” Williams said. “We may have to do some weekend work, and that will require overtime.

“That’s going to be tough, because we don’t have a lot of money in our overtime budget.”

 

The city budgets one mil, or about $1 million a year, for general street repair, which includes patching potholes and utility cuts.

Those monies cover supplies and construction, but not salaries.

Meanwhile, one of the city’s two machines designed to make pothole filling more efficient has been down for months.

The city has two pothole patching machines, devices that were purchased under former Mayor Tony Yarber. Both were purchased at the behest of a former public works director who said they would make the city more efficient filling potholes.

However, since late last year, one of those machines has been down.

That device, a “LeeBoy RA400,” is an all-in-one pothole paver. The operator can clean out a pothole, spray in tack and rocks, and smooth it over, all while sitting behind the driver’s seat.

The device can be operated by two people, far fewer than the number of people on a traditional road crew.

However, the device isn’t more efficient when it’s in the shop. 

“We had several things in the shop. A lot of it should be coming out soon – the paver, the tack truck,” Williams said. “Even once they’re fixed, the number of potholes we’ll be able to fill will be about the same.”

The other truck, which still requires some manual application of asphalt, is still in use.

Williams said the best solution to addressing the pothole problem now is a  city-wide repaving program.

“Pothole repairs should be repairs that are made to streets that have been paved in the last five to seven years, either due to traffic problems or wear and tear,” he said. “In our case, because we’ve delayed maintenance so long, our streets are just falling apart.”

A 2013 report released in 2017 showed that 73 percent of the city’s 1,200 miles of paved roadway were rated “poor,” “very poor,” or “fair.” At the time of the report, nearly a third of the Northside’s major thoroughfares had fewer than one year of “remaining service life” due to years of lack of maintenance.

Data was compiled by Stantec Consulting Services and used special equipment to evaluate the surface conditions of all Jackson roadways.

“The existing asphalt has exceeded its life. We can patch a pothole right now and two weeks later, it’s going to be washed back out because it doesn’t have anything to adhere to,” he said. “We have to pave the streets.”

 

 

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