Review finds not all Pittsburgh roads are as bad as they look on paper

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When an Act 47 financial overseer reported recently that 56 percent of Pittsburgh’s streets were rated zero, meaning they were in worse-than-poor condition, it almost seemed too bad to be true.

A spot check reveals that the data used to make that determination might itself have a few potholes.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette obtained a list of 9,521 street segments that scored zero from the city Public Works Department and went out to get a glimpse of what the worst of the worst looked like.

Some of the roads on the list didn’t have any significant damage or appeared to be downright smooth.

There isn’t a pothole to be found on Ellsworth Avenue between South Aiken Avenue and College Street in Shadyside, yet all of the street segments in that section were on the “zero” list.

“It seems fine to me compared to a lot of other streets in town,” said Richard Kepple of Oakland, who was walking along Ellsworth with his wife, Gail, one day last week.

“Less than poor? That doesn’t make any sense,” Ms. Kepple said.

“I don’t think it has a big problem,” said Benay Akyon, a University of Pittsburgh doctoral student who awaited a bus at South Negley Avenue. “Maybe that’s because I don’t drive.”

Oneida Street from Grandview Avenue to West Sycamore Street also is relatively smooth, from a repaving job in 2010, but remains on the worse-than-poor list. Another section from Virginia Avenue to Meta Street, also on the list, looked more deserving.

A section of South Millvale Avenue from Liberty Avenue to Yew Street in Bloomfield appears ready to provide involuntary lumbar adjustments to anyone who drives over it.

Mike Gable, who inherited the data when he took over as city public works director this year, conceded that it had flaws but said decisions on which streets to repave are not based solely on that information. The city also relies on observations of supervisors in each public works division and on complaints to the mayor’s 311 hot line, he said.

“There’s definitely a few issues [with the data]. We don’t take the report at face value,” he said.

Paving contractors and city crews are supposed to submit forms when streets are resurfaced so the ratings can be upgraded, he said. That hasn’t always happened.

Mr. Gable agreed with the findings of the city’s Act 47 financial overseers, who reported in May that not only were 56 percent of streets zero-rated, fully three-quarters were classified as “very poor,” with ratings of 24 or lower on a 100-point scale.

The city for years has not paved enough streets to keep the overall network in good condition, Mr. Gable said. This year’s budget allows for paving 40 miles, or about half of what the city should be doing every year to maintain a smooth road system, so 40 miles of streets will move closer to a zero rating.

The Act 47 report called for the city to increase spending on infrastructure, saying it had fallen behind on upkeep of streets, bridges and buildings. City Council is expected to take a final vote Tuesday on a $55 million bond issue, part of a plan to spend $30 million in each of the next four years on capital improvements.

Mr. Gable said he hopes to increase routine inspections of city streets so that all are evaluated every three years “so we have more current and better information.”

Jon Schmitz: or 412-263-1868. Visit the PG’s transportation blog, The Roundabout, at​Roundabout. 

Jon Schmitz: or 412-263-1868. Visit the PG’s transportation blog, The Roundabout, at Twitter: @pgtraffic.

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