If this is the latest-starting winter in our lifetime, which it seems to be, why are we still talking about potholes left over from last winter?
Excellent question. Glad you asked it.
I vowed years ago never to write another word about potholes because I’m burned out on the topic. But recently I opened an email from a veteran paramedic who says the potholes around Akron’s hospitals are so bad that patients in ambulances are physically suffering because of them.
“Literally a day does not go by that a patient doesn’t complain about our roads,” says George Wind of Copley, a paramedic for 20 years.
At times, he says, ambulance drivers take longer routes to avoid the biggest potholes, delaying the treatment of patients in exchange for reducing their pain from the jostling.
Now that’s a pothole problem.
In an extremely lengthy email, Wind wrote the following:
“One of the many responsibilities of a provider of emergency care is to be the patients’ advocate. As such, I have some questions, observations and suggestions for the ‘powers-that-be’ to consider.”
He addressed a number of specific situations, which we will touch on in a minute. But first, let’s try to answer one of his most basic questions.
Given that many of the road problems he is encountering seem to be tied to construction projects at or near the city’s major hospitals, he asks:
“Does the city [have] some type of requirement for the developer to maintain a satisfactory level of road condition during construction, and the repair of road damage after the project’s completion?
“If not, why not?”
For an answer, we turn to Jim Hall, the city’s manager of Public Works, whose bureau is one of several responsible for Akron’s streets.
Hall says the city does require contractors to “maintain and repair disturbed areas within the city rights-of-way and easements,” a requirement policed by the office of Engineering Services.
Well, according to the paramedic, Engineering Services is asleep at the switch.
Wind points to big problems on West Exchange Street, which affect both Children’s Hospital and Akron General Medical Center. The major projects at Children’s have helped to create what Wind calls “minefields.”
And a large upcoming project at AGMC — the construction of a new ER — has already added an army of dump trucks to the same area, stressing the streets even more.
In addition, the city has a couple of its own projects in the works in that neighborhood, not the least of which is the relocation of underground utility lines forced by the gigantic sewer tunnel project.
Nothing is as effective in repairing streets as repaving, but that makes little economic sense before a construction project is completed.
Which leaves us with the temporary fix — pothole filling
As for potholes in general, Hall says the city is peddling as fast as it can. Full-time pothole crews are on the job year-around, and “we do our best to patch all of [them] as soon as we can get to them,” an act he says can be accelerated if residents report them by calling 311.
The crews are more successful during the warmer months because the cold mix required during the winter just isn’t very durable. But no pothole filling can come close to repaving.
The city does have an overall repaving plan. It’s not a great plan, which Hall attributes to “major cutbacks in state and federal spending on local communities.”
Because of the tighter money, “we have to pick and choose what and when we resurface wisely,” he says. For those judgments, the city relies on a firm called JG3 Consulting, which evaluates about a third of the city’s streets every year, handing down opinions about which problem areas are the most pressing.
In other words, most streets are assessed only once every three years.
Although sometimes it doesn’t seem like it, Hall insists the city works hard to anticipate and coordinate projects so that new pavement doesn’t have to be torn up shortly after it is laid down.
You can’t stop progress, nor would you want to. But during big projects near hospitals, we ought to be factoring in the people strapped inside ambulances.
Says Wind: “Perhaps this situation will only be solved when one of the ‘powers-that-be’ unfortunately finds himself on a backboard, in pain, being jostled on our roads by all of the potholes that the city can’t find the money to fix.”
Seems to me the city could also lean harder on contractors who are trashing the streets and not fixing them until the end of a project.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He also is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bob.dyer.31.