The City of Oakland kicked off its annual month-long pothole overhaul on Tuesday. Workers in florescent-orange jackets set down cones on Telegraph Avenue at 56th Street in North Oakland, then sprayed a sticky black substance called asphalt emulsion to delineate the culprit area, which contained several wide, shallow potholes.
“Driving on these streets, I hit a pothole every day,” said District 1 Councilmember Jane Brunner. “Public Works is doing the best they can with the blitz and they’re going all over the city.”
Over the next four weeks, double the amount of usual public works crews will be tackling potholes across Oakland. The goal is to fill more than 2,000 potholes in this one month.
Potholes can ruin a car’s alignment, take the wheel off a bicycle, crash a motorcycle or sprain the ankle of an unsuspecting pedestrian. Formed by rain working its way under the street surface, potholes begin as cracks then develop and grow into depressions and holes.
Every year the rainy season causes accelerated erosion of city roads, said Public Works Assistant Director David Ferguson. “The streets start to deteriorate and potholes form,” he said. “It’s difficult because we have so many, so we have to prioritize to make an impact.”
With cutbacks it’s not easy. Public Works gets $4-6 million a year to fix potholes but that hardly touches on what’s necessary. “We need about $23 million to reverse the trend of street conditions right now,” Ferguson said. “We need $435 million to complete it.”
Public Works gets several pothole service requests daily but it’s nearly impossible to fix them all because of lack of funding. “We’re scrambling and then trying to spread the resources we have,” Ferguson said. “We feel we fail when we have to repair 4,000 to 5,000 potholes a year. The streets shouldn’t be in that condition.”
On Tuesday, after the workers sprayed down the asphalt emulsion, they poured mounds of steaming hot asphalt into the street. Then working quickly, they raked and shoveled the little black rocks into the potholes and around the surrounding area until they created a smooth surface. Next, using a small machine that looked like a lawn mower, they packed down and compacted the asphalt until it was flush with the street. Within 30 minutes, the job was done.
“It dries before the next 10 minutes,” said Public Works Supervisor Tony Jones as he surveyed their work. “The main thing is we want to keep the edges sealed so water doesn’t seep in through the cracks.”
Patching potholes is only a temporary solution to street erosion and deterioration, according to Public Works. The only real way to get rid of potholes is to repave the entire street. A newly paved street generally lasts around 30 years depending on traffic—busier streets tend to break down more quickly. This spring, federal stimulus and state bond funds will provide Oakland with enough money to pave 20 miles of major streets. But 450 miles need paving.
This week, Public Works crews will do pothole repairs in West Oakland, then work into Central Oakland next week and East Oakland the following week. The final week of the blitz, they will focus on finishing any outstanding repair requests in high-traffic areas citywide.
To request a Public Works pothole repair call 510-615-5566 or go online to www.OaklandPW.com.
Want to vote on the worst pothole in North Oakland? Our poll is open through May 4 at noon — cast your vote here.