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potholes fixed, and it’s still winter

By enelson
Wednesday, March 7th, 2007 at 2:27 pm in Caltrans, Freeways, Funding, Safety.


In an effort to breathe more life into this blog, I’m going to start posting more on the routine correspondence I receive that I’d never think to write a story about. Some of what I’ve done on the blog recently (and that’s not been much) might have been stories, and that’s not what the blog is about.

This item I received today is your basic public agency self-congratulatory press release, although it deals with a subject that affects a lot of people, and there may even be some validity to the claim that Caltrans fixing potholes in a timely fashion is, by definition, news:

SACRAMENTO — The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) today announced it finished work ahead of schedule on 35 emergency pavement repair projects, totaling $60 million.

Because these 35 projects were designated “emergency” projects, Caltrans was able to fast track the work. For example, six months were shaved off the normal timetable for these projects by accelerating the standard contracting procedure (advertising, bidding and awarding) via the emergency process.

In these heady days of $20 billion transportation bonds, $60 million on a statewide pothole program seems pretty piddling, but hey, we all want them fixed, right? Think of what a pothole can do to a bicycle, for Pete’s sake.

For some odd reason, Napa County got a project worth $3.4 million to mill and replace road surface on State Route 29, but that’s all the information that was on the release. I’ve driven up there, and from what I saw (and felt), it was probably necessary.

According to the release’s comments, attributed to Caltrans Director Will Kempton, this isn’t just about fixing potholes, it’s a transformative event:

“The average timetable for non-emergency repairs can be years,” said Caltrans Director Will Kempton. “We did this work in nine months. Caltrans is evolving from a transportation bureaucracy into a mobility company.” 

I will grant the director that his agency isn’t the imperial agency it used to be, but I’m not ready to say that it is no longer a bureaucracy. If I can use the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and bureaucracy in the same sentence, there’s no way I’m going to cut Caltrans that kind of slack. Also, I’m not sure what a mobility company is, but it sounds like something a transportation department ought to be.

What I like best about this release is that it kind of explained how potholes are born:

Between December 2005 and April 2006, pouring rain and heavy snow resulted in $424 million in damages to California’s highways. Emergency pavement repair projects accounted for $60 million.

Storm water infiltrated 20 highways in 21 counties, causing significant cracking and potholes.  Caltrans worked diligently and restored about 500 lane miles of rough highway pavement following the 2005-06 winter storm season.

This is the sort of hard-hitting journalism I’ve always wanted to do. I asked our local Caltrans District if I could ride along with the emergency crews fixing Interstate 580 and such and watch them do their thing, but they told me it’s too dangerous. Too dangerous? I’ll have you know I’ve been to Nablus, I’ve been to the Gaza Strip. Now you’re telling me it’s too dangerous to ride with the pothole crew?

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