All about Potholes and Road Maintenance

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When he first became Mayor, Greg Nickels made potholes a priority.  His goal was to have them filled within 48 hours of a complaint.

While his goal was laudable, and helped in the short term, the reality is that potholes are a symptom of a much greater problem which is that our roads are deteriorating and the City is not able to keep up with the need to properly maintain them.

On Tuesday, at the City Council Transportation Committee meeting, I asked Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) director Peter Hahn to tell us what the department is doing to repair potholes.

We were told that SDOT has a backlog of about 500 pothole reports compared to the average of 200.  Today the new goal of SDOT is to fill potholes within 72 hours.

Because of the backlog, the number of pothole crews was increased from three to nine in December.  The additional crews will continue their work at least through January.

Mr. Hahn stated that “potholes are a symptom” of deferred maintenance.  When maintenance is deferred the deteriorating surface allows water to undermine the roadbed.  Freeze and thaw conditions create breaks resulting in potholes.   This winter has had such conditions.

Mr. Hahn pointed out that spot repairs don’t last very long and will have to be redone multiple times.  SDOT is looking at a more enduring way of filling potholes with new equipment they had tested last year.

Seattle does not have sufficient funds to maintain and repair its streets adequately. In 2006, with the passage of the nine-year Bridging the Gap levy, an additional $365 million became available for transportation maintenance and repairs.

However, since 2008, because of the recession, SDOT has experienced a significant drop in its traditional revenues sources.  State Gas Tax revenue has declined by 2% and the General Fund (comprised of sales tax, property taxes, B&O taxes and utility taxes) has declined 21% and Real Estate Excise Tax has declined by 60%.

SDOT’s non-Bridging the Gap revenues (adjusted for inflation) have declined from $81 million in 2008 to $59.7 million in 2010.  A decline of 26%.

To help meet the need to maintain our streets, last fall the City Council  approved the creation of a Transportation Benefit District and approved a $20 vehicle license fee.  The vehicle license fee will go into effect this spring and will raise about $6.5 million annually for street repairs and maintenance and other transportation needs.

Please report any potholes or other street maintenance needs you may see by calling the ROAD line at (206) 684-ROAD (7623) or by using the on-line form. Those contact methods get the information to Street Maintenance dispatch more directly than other methods.

If you have questions or comments, please write to me at: