What Pittsburgh’s potholes can tell us.

PittsburghAre potholes prime indicators of street health in a city? Or just one of a number of indicators? And does how they are managed and repaired tell you a lot about the agency responsible?

I’d say “maybe” and “yes.”

A detailed study of this work in Pittsburgh is worth looking at if either or both of those questions are important to you. The study, done by PublicSource, says the average amount of time it takes to resolve pothole complaints is on the rise on the streets of Pittsburgh, according to an analysis of 25,000 pothole complaints from Pittsburgh’s 311 center between 2006 and 2012. PublicSource describes itself as an independent, non-profit news group that focuses on original investigative reporting about critical issues facing Pittsburgh and the Western Pennsylvania region. It was launched to undertake in-depth reporting in the public interest.

In this case PublicSource describes just how it did the study.

The detailed study is thorough and a must-read for agencies and contractors whose job it is to manage and repair potholes. How a city the size of Pittsburgh manages the problem is an eye-opener. The report argues that potholes are “indicators of the health of the streets,” and to a large extent that is probably true. But the study acknowledges that it’s not that simple. And since it’s a one-city study there are no comparisons to other cities of comparable size, age, population density, traffic volume, topography etc.

My sense is that engineers, DOT leaders and construction crew foremen will say that Pittsburgh could do better but, all things considered, the city is doing a pretty good job.