Pothole complaints top 6,100 in Pittsburgh

Mayor hopes to direct more money into infrastructure improvement

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We all knew this winter was bad, but its rim-bending impact on Pittsburgh streets becomes clearer every day.

Motorists filed 6,142 reports of potholes with Pittsburgh's 311 Center in the first three months of the year. That's nearly 2,000 more than all of last year, when the city had 4,164 complaints, according to data obtained by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Some of the bump, said mayoral spokesman Tim McNulty, can be attributed to increased outreach by the city urging residents to call and report potholes.

Standing on Brookline Boulevard, one of the city's notoriously pockmarked thoroughfares, Mayor Bill Peduto and other city officials held a news conference Wednesday to mark what should have been the start of paving season were it not delayed by rain. He expounded on the need for the city to invest more in its infrastructure and also announced plans to improve the way the city maintains and paves its streets.

He lauded the work of 311 and public works employees, who worked overtime to handle the surplus of work that brutal winter weather brought.

"We're going to ask them to do more," he said. "Starting today, we'll work to have all pothole complaints filled within three business days."

Mr. Peduto said pothole crews also will use a different technique to patch potholes, "squaring up" the depressions and cleaning out the debris before filling them. Squared-off patches last longer.

The bad news is that the budget only allows the city to pave 27 miles of road this year, far short of the 70 to 80 miles that it would need to pave to keep up with the 10-year lifespan of asphalt. The good news is that it will include Brookline Boulevard.

So while the winter was especially punishing, its effects were doubly or triply felt because many of the streets have asphalt that is forced to outlive its durability. Brookline Boulevard, which has turned into a lunar landscape of potholes and uneven patching, hasn't been paved in at least 20 years, said city operations director Guy Costa.

Public works director Mike Gable said the situation is so dire that city inspectors have rated about 550 of the 860 miles of asphalt roads as a "zero," the worst rating a street can receive.

"We've talked for years about how we should pave 80 to 100 miles a year just to keep up with the lifespan of asphalt," he said. "The word 'should' isn't viable any more. We have to pave 80 to 100 miles."

The city is due to refresh its financial recovery plan this year, which it's required to produce as a financially distressed municipality under Act 47. And as part of that plan, the mayor wants to cut operational expenses and put the savings into the city's capital budget so it can start rebuilding its infrastructure, including its streets.

This year, the city is budgeted to spend a little more than $7 million on paving and emergency street repair. The city's capital budget shrunk this year in part because funds from an $80 million bond issue -- the traditional source of capital improvement dollars -- dried up in 2013.

Still, Mr. Peduto said the city is doing its best to manage with the resources it has. It recently streamlined communications between the 311 Center and the Department of Public Works so there are fewer people hours and less paperwork involved in transmitting the complaints. There also are plans to put GPS devices on street sweepers by this summer and snowplows next winter to keep drivers accountable to routes.

And he said he's in talks with Carnegie Mellon University to install special cameras on city vehicles that will affix to the underside of bumpers and film streets. A special program will analyze the footage and evaluate the condition of the streets. The cameras would cost about $400 each.

Moriah Balingit: mbalingit@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2533 or on Twitter @MoriahBee. Andrew McGill contributed. First Published April 2, 2014 12:51 PM

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