Potholes are a problem in Tacoma. It will take years to fix it.
Q: I've seen crews repaving and doing work on Tacoma streets near mine as part of the Streets Initiative, but my street needs work and it hasn't been done yet. Why?
A: A handful of people have emailed about this since the last time I did an update on the work that the Tacoma Streets Initiative is doing to repave and chip seal thousands of blocks over the course of 10 years.
First, some quick background: In 2015, Tacoma voters approved a 10-year package of taxes designed to raise $175 million to fix the city’s streets. Another $30 million will come from the city, and officials hope to get an additional $120 million in grant money for a total of $325 million. In the end, about 5,600 of the city's 8,000 residential blocks will have been overlaid with new asphalt or have gotten preventative maintenance treatments.
I spoke with Rae Bailey, public works division manager for the city of Tacoma. He said as of the end of 2017, crews had repaved 225 blocks (those are the ones that are in terrible condition, "one giant pothole" as Bailey said) and done preventative maintenance (chip sealing or crack sealing) on another 619 blocks.
The goal for this year: 170 blocks of residential street paving, 245 blocks of chip sealing and 180 blocks of crack sealing. You can check out the progress at tacomastreetsinitiative.org.
It's helpful to keep in mind that it's a 10-year project, and crews are trying to spread the work equitably around the city. Bailey said there are several considerations for where to do work and when. Sometimes, underground utility work needs to be done where crews are planning to pave a street, so it makes sense to wait so they only rip up the street one time.
"If we're going to go in and pave a street we don't want to put in brand new asphalt if a utility is bad, because then they're digging up the street right after we pave it," Bailey said. "We may pick the streets that don't have underground-utility issues to do sooner and in the out years reconstruct the streets that have utility problems.
"That might be why citizens are looking at it and saying, 'Geez, you paved this street, which was bad, but you didn't do this street.'"
Other times, they might be working on new paving for several blocks in a row. In those cases, perhaps you noticed that they missed your street, which badly needs work and is nearby. That could be because they're trying not to rip up an entire neighborhood at one time, or they'll get to it later in the project.
"We have limited resources. We need to make sure everyone is getting their fair share," Bailey said. "If you are tearing up 20 residential blocks for a project, that's a huge impact to the neighborhood, so we're trying to bite it off in chunks that are palatable to the community so we're not impacting them too much."
Switching gears slightly: While pothole repairs aren't part of the Streets Initiative, Bailey said people can report them by calling 311 inside Tacoma, and that information will be reported to his team.
Temporary repairs — which are fast to do and usually last 8 to 12 weeks — can be addressed quickly and are often done when the road itself is in such bad shape that crews can't do permanent repairs.
Bailey said city crews can fix up to 150 potholes with temporary repairs a day. They use cold-mix asphalt, which stays pliable for longer. Debris is cleaned out of the pothole, the mix is shoveled in, then crews roll over it a couple times with a dump truck and allow traffic to do the rest.
Crews can only get to eight to 10 permanent pothole repairs per day.
To do those, crews use hot-mix asphalt (the stuff used to construct new roads). They start by cutting out the pothole, usually 4 feet by 4 feet, then pour the hot-mix asphalt in and compact it with a roller. That part of the road will have to be closed for a few hours as the asphalt cools. Those repairs typically last as long as the road does, Bailey said.