Bring on the blitz: Pittsburgh clamps down on potholes

The early days of Bill Peduto's tenure as Pittsburgh mayor have been filled with sweeping pronouncements about open and progressive government, reform and "the sunlight of a new era."

All that aside, if you're mayor, you gotta fix the potholes. Mr. Peduto on Tuesday announced a 72-hour all-out "blitz" to combat this year's early outbreak of the tire-flattening, alignment-bending craters.

"This is an all-hands-on-deck effort to fill potholes in our city streets before the next cold spell begins" on Friday, Mr. Peduto said in a statement. "We have city crews working in shifts 24 hours a day" and have activated parks maintenance workers to join public works crews in the effort.

Mayor declares war on potholes

Mayor Bill Peduto announced a 72-hour all-out "blitz" to combat this year's early outbreak of potholes. (Video by Nate Guidry; 1/15/2014)

The announcement follows a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette report Sunday about the earlier start to pothole season that followed wild temperature swings that took the mercury from 50 degrees to minus-9 and back to 55 this month.

"It's as certain as taxes," public works director Rob Kaczorowski said in an interview Tuesday. "After every freeze-thaw cycle, you get potholes."

The city's 311 hot line fielded 149 pothole complaints in the first 13 days of this year, nearly double the number at this point a year ago. The calls came from 44 of the city's 88 neighborhoods, signaling the widespread nature of the outbreak.

A Post-Gazette driving tour of the city last week found potholes on Brookline Boulevard, Route 51 in the city's southern neighborhoods, Bausman Street in Beltzhoover, South 18th Street and East Carson Street on the South Side, the Birmingham Bridge, Forbes Avenue in Oakland, Hobart and Beacon streets and Forward Avenue in Squirrel Hill and Fifth Avenue in Point Breeze.

Weather certainly has played a role, but Mr. Kaczorowski acknowledged that the city's failure to repave more miles of streets is a factor as well. The city's wish is to do 80 to 100 miles per season, but only got to 44 miles last year, he said.

One particularly bad street is McNeilly Road in the South Hills, which has been passed over for repaving three years running because of planned utility work that would have torn up the new pavement. Mr. Kaczorowski said the city and Dormont plan to resurface the road this year.

Brookline Boulevard, in the midst of a comprehensive streetscape improvement project, was supposed to be repaved last fall but the contractor ran out of time, he said. It will be done in the spring.

Resurfacing is important because as road surfaces age, they develop cracks that allow moisture to penetrate. When the moisture freezes, it expands, and when it melts, it leaves a subsurface cavity that causes the road surface to collapse when vehicles pass over it. Voila: pothole.

Seventeen crews have been dispatched for daytime pothole duty, Mr. Peduto said, while 10 crews are working night shifts. Employees have been assigned to transport cold-patch asphalt to distribution sites throughout the city.

Using cold patch increases the likelihood that a pothole will reappear before the winter ends, but local hot asphalt suppliers shut down their plants during cold weather. The city does not have equipment used by some other localities that blasts hot air into potholes to dry them and clear loose debris, then delivers a coating of liquid asphalt and crushed stone that is heated aboard the vehicle.

So cold patch it is.

Mr. Peduto asked residents to help by reporting potholes to 311. He, Guy Costa, chief operations officer, and Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith will hold a news briefing on the campaign this morning in Sheraden.

Calls to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation's hot line, 1-800-FIX-ROAD, also are up so far this year, spokesman Steve Cowan said. Twenty-two calls have been received in Allegheny County, up from nine at this time a year ago.

Jon Schmitz: Visit the PG's transportation blog, The Roundabout, at

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