Newsflash: In Boston, the filling of potholes “appears to be a totally subjective decision of the supervisors and is unsupported by any records, data bases, or even a planned survey approach.” This according to a KPMG audit of the city’s Public Works Department conducted last fall but only “obtained” by the Boston Globe this week. The lead of the story is that public works employees allegedly worked less than required and lied and falsified documents. However, the fact that there is no plan for maintaining streets is, to me, more scandalous.

To make matters worse, the city’s long-time policy is to require only temporary repairs after utility companies dig up the street. The city then comes in and makes a permanent repair — within two or three years. In the interim, the pavement can deteriorate significantly. This is why we live in an essentially permanent state of potholes. The Boston Globe ran an expose of this practice in 2005, with on-record quotes from national experts saying that the city’s policy was completely wrong. Nothing changed. Mayor Menino finally did something about the problem when his own car ran into a pothole. “I’m not going to stand for it” he said, and promptly halted all street excavations. But the ban lasted just 5 days. The city let the utilities and contractors continue their work after scolding them and showing them pictures of their bad temporary repairs. But one contractor justly asked: “There is money that goes into a fund and is supposed to go toward the permanent fix. The temporary patches will last a little time, but they’re not designed for the long term. The question is why isn’t the city making the permanent patch?”

And when the city crews do fill potholes, they usually convert the hole into a bump. Their only repair technology is to shovel in hot asphalt and tamp it down by hand. They don’t do any real repairs–except when the entire street is repaved, which can take years or decades. The city needs to survey and fix all road defects, and enlist citizens in reporting them. The NYC DOT has a nicely illustrated page on this. So I know it’s possible. But in my lifetime?


  1. Boston Globe links in this article have expired. Articles are available in the archive accessible through most public library online services in the Boston area.

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