Pothole-problem followup: City response to “Bruno” saga


That’s “Bruno” the recurring pothole (or should we call it a potpit?) at 35th/Alaska, as nicknamed (and photographed) by Casey Crowell, who e-mailed WSB with a complaint that sparked plenty of discussion after we featured it here two weeks ago. Casey’s contention: Sure, the city will come out and fix potholes, but they don’t fix them correctly, and the repeated repairs cause even more trouble, so why aren’t they fixed properly the first time? Now Casey has sent photos plus a response he just received from the city’s top transportation boss:


Casey says that’s another car avoiding “Bruno.” So far, he says, he has sent Mayor Nickels three notes with no response. But just as he was about to send a followup note to us a few days ago, he says, e-mail came in from Grace Crunican, who runs the city Transportation Department. His overall critique of her response is, “In my opinion the response does not address my main issue which is ‘IF YOU CAN NOT FIX IT RIGHT THE FIRST TIME (2nd or 3rd) DO NOT FIX IT AT ALL!’ It wastes money we cannot afford to waste. You could use that money to subsidize the five or six people that ride the $52 million South Lake Union trolley. A faulty fix ends up creating two problems instead of one, now not only is there a pothole, there is now material all aver the road causing a road hazard!” Here’s the SDOT response he forwarded, with his questions/observations inline:


Dear Casey Crowell:

I am responding to your concern regarding multiple attempts when addressing potholes.

Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) has had quite a time with the winter weather. In addition to snow and ice concerns, the alternate freezing and thawing brings out the potholes which frequently occur in the same areas as you have observed until maintenance money allows a more extensive permanent deep strength repair which also needs to be completed in dryer weather.

Pothole repairs are a band-aid over a very large problem. To address decades of deferred maintenance, Mayor Nickels, the City Council and Seattle voters enacted the nine-year Bridging the Gap transportation maintenance funding program, which began in 2007. With funds from Bridging the Gap, SDOT paved about 27 lane-miles in 2007, including California Avenue Southwest. SDOT will resurface another 33 lane-miles in 2008, including First Avenue South, which is used every day by residents of West Seattle. Even with this progress, it will take years before we catch up with all the deferred maintenance. So, SDOT will be filling potholes for many years.

Potholes repairs improve the driving surface as long as they last (CASEY COMMENT: “This is just not true, often times when a pothole is fixed and before it falls apart there will be an elevated bump instead of a hole which is like going over a speed bump at 35mph, then it falls apart and the hole is back with lots of loose gravel”) but because the underlying problem has not been dug out and repaired, they are prone to failure (CASEY COMMENT: “So stop repairing them until you can do it correctly!”) When the whole street needs rehabilitation, sometimes there is not good pavement adjacent to the pothole, which aggravates the problem. Pothole repairs made during the wet season are especially prone to failure, and pothole repairs made with patching products, which have to be used when the asphalt plants are closed for seasonal maintenance (typically in December and January) are especially susceptible to having to be redone. (CASEY COMMENT: “This makes absolutely no sense at all.”)

Our crews don’t like to redo their own work, as you can imagine, but refilling potholes is necessary to keep driving safe (CASEY COMMENT: “When you fix a pothole that almost immediately starts falling apart, how is it keeping driving safe?”) The long-term cure is to catch up with the deferred maintenance. Also, when necessary, crews make deep strength repairs—large spot repairs to correct particular problems. This is the approach we are taking on 35 Avenue Southwest at Southwest Alaska, and at several other locations in West Seattle.

An SDOT street maintenance repair crew has filled the worst potholes at 35th Avenue Southwest & Southwest Alaska Street (CASEY COMMENT: “Can you please tell me the date this pothole was fixed? See my photos of the pothole at 35th and Alaska taken 1-22-08”) In addition, Gerard Green, SDOT Civil Engineer has recently performed a field inspection at this location and has developed a deep strength repair project which will be implemented in the very near future; this project will reconstruct the area of concern which has caused recurring potholes over the last year or so. If you see the potholes reemerge before we can make the deep strength repair that will fix the problem, the quickest way to get them fixed is to call them into the SDOT Street Maintenance dispatcher, 206-386-1218. (CASEY COMMENT: “I am very aware of this “hotline” and always have been, but I will not call it because you will come out and fix the problem and unfortunately that is the problem. I want you to fix potholes correctly or not at all and it has been proven over and over that you can not repair a pothole without making it worse. Again I will document the 50 or more pot holes on the stretch of road from Alaska to California, the city should be ashamed.”)

Please call Gerard Green at 206-684-0937 or e-mail him at gerard.green@seattle.gov if you have questions, or need any other information regarding this project.


Grace Crunican, Director
Seattle Department of Transportation

Casey’s closing comment: “Grace, you need to drive on these streets to know what is going on. If you would like, I will make a tape recording with narrative on the 50 or more failing potholes from Alaska St where Huling Bros is to Fauntleroy where Starbucks and Tully’s are, you will see what I am talking about. Can you tell me when this stretch of road had repairs to the multiple potholes? Another big question, often times potholes are created by construction, why are the companies doing the construction not held accountable for the roads they screw up? Again, I want to thank you for your response. I have no hard feeling against the Mayor or city, I just want this issue to be looked at and fixed. Currently a lot a money is being wasted to fix potholes that fall apart multiple times through the season.”

The saga continues. Will Casey get the followup questions answered? When will the “deep strength repair” (we can’t help but note, that sounds like an infomercial wrinkle treatment) project start? We’ll keep you posted.

21 Replies to "Pothole-problem followup: City response to "Bruno" saga"

  • mtnpeak February 3, 2008 (8:13 am)

    I too look forward to this pothole being fixed for good. But I don’t find the short-lived fixes to be as detrimental to driving as Mr. Crowell appears to. I’m also puzzled by his request that the city refrain from fixing any pavement at all until they can completely rebuild the street. Given that the City can’t rebuild every arterial within its boundaries in any given year, this seems like a good way to make sure we have the maximum number of the largest possible potholes for the longest time.

  • MrJT February 3, 2008 (8:44 am)

    Maybe SDOT could have used the money the they spent on a “Weekend Managers Retreat” at a casino/hotel to celebrate passing the Bridge the Gap Initiative, poorly disguised as a “working meeting” to actually FIX A ROAD ! And why does Grace Crunican need to keep visiting foreign counties to see how their transportation operates? How about driving around her own neighborhood and seeing the immediate needs?

  • miws February 3, 2008 (9:33 am)

    35th, all the way from Fauntleroy up to Morgan, was fully repaved 5 or 6 years ago this coming summer.


    I haven’t gone back to read the original post, so don’t recall if it was mentioned there, but was Bruno a result of a utility dig? As far as I can recall, Merrill Gardens was pretty much finished ny then, and I don’t remember a utility dig in that area after the repave.


    I do remeber a rectangle being cut in the pavement, northbound, south of Alaska, shortly after the repave, and in viewing it form the curb (don’t remember which lane it was) didn’t see any indication that it was actually accessing any utilities. What’s up with that?


    I realize thousands of cars pound that pavement every day, but even so, it seems Bruno is premature wear, if he is not the result of a dig.


    The contractors/developers should definitely pay for the complete and proper repair of utility digs, no matter the condition of the existing road, but especially in the case of a road in otherwise excellent condition.


    Another thing, and I think this may have been mentiond on the original thread, what kind of damage are these heavy construction trucks causing? The double dumpers loaded with demo debris. The rigs hauling in heavy construction materials. Maybe it’s time to put weight limits on them. (Yes, I know that would drive up the costs, etc etc etc, and it would just be passed along, etc etc etc….



  • Jack Loblaw February 3, 2008 (9:34 am)

    Has anyone filed a claim against the City of Seattle for damage to their car caused by a pothole ? If so what was the outcome ( I am sure that I can guess the answer )

  • MikeV2.0 February 3, 2008 (10:45 am)

    Ok, I used to intern in the industry, and my Dad is a Transportation engineer for NY. Maybe I can fill in things Grace left out.

    I think what Grace is trying to say is that it is exponentially more expensive to repave a road , than it is to patch a hole. Think about it, repaving a road requires heavy equipment, and at least 6guys. A patch requires 2 guys and a small dump truck.

    There are also some technical challenges:
    *You cannot repave in the winter
    *Patches made in the winter wouln’t hold, (in New York State’s cities do not bother patching holes in the winter)
    *The winter is very hard on roads, Water on the road freezes and expands which causes the road to deteriorate. A “repaired” pothole will face a higher likelihood of failure through the winter.
    *Cement Roads suck. In the winter freezing water will cause “pavement explosions” which is basically water leaking through seams then freezing. This elevates the cement slab causing a annoying bump. However I’ve noticed cement patches look more durable than asphalt patches.

    I agree with the questions about contractors cutting the road. I’ve definitely experienced them ruin roads creating potholes.

    In conclusion, yes this sucks but If you want road repairs you have to pay. To put it into perspective Washingtonians pay less than half the taxes that a typical New Yorker pays. Property Tax on 250k is 2,500, in NY for the same property would pay 4,500. In addition New Yorkers pay road tolls on I-90 and a state income tax. New York doesn’t always have great roads, but they are without a doubt better than Washington’s.

  • Rockyraccoon February 3, 2008 (11:45 am)

    While I agree that we have to pay for what we want, it gets tiresome always hearing that the answer is more taxes. The answer never seems to be “let’s do thing more efficiently” or “let’s find a creative new solution” or “let’s stop wasting gazillions of dollars on useless crap and political payoffs”.

  • JumboJim February 3, 2008 (1:18 pm)

    It seems the person from the city isn’t really familiar with the situation at that particular pothole (and with the billion potholes I’m seeing these days its no surprise), but I think this was mentioned in the original posting about this: that’s no ordinary pothole. It seems to be a hybrid pothole/sinkhole. I think the city needs to do a little investigation there. Perhaps there’s a spring underneath that spot. Springs often show up on the lower slopes of a hill like the site of “Bruno”.

    Until they check that out I doubt they’ll be able to do a satisfactory, permanent repair, winter or not.

  • Casey February 3, 2008 (1:54 pm)

    MiMikeV2.0; you hit the nail on the head, this city (maybe all) can not properly repair potholes in the winter for the reasons you stated well. I can only assume they continue to waste resources to fulfill Mayor Nickels campaign promise to fix potholes. Sure, the city will come out and fix potholes, but they don’t fix them correctly, and the repairs become more of a hazrd than the original pothole.

    Look folks, I am not a looney and I am not saying the city should refrain from fixing any pavement at all, I am saying they should refrain from repairing potholes (or anything for that matter) until they can do it right, jeeeze! What ever happened to “If you can’t fix it right the first time dont fix it at all.” Half ass repairs do not make our roads safer, they make them less safe. I can point out 50 potholes in West Seattle (dont get me started on 1st ave so) falling apart as I write this, they are more of a hazard now then they were before a repair was done/attempted.

    We as tax payers need to stand up to this blatant waste for many reasons. Number one, its just wrong. And according to city officials we have a viaduct that is falling down and a bridge and ferry boats that are about to sink, etc, etc.

    Remember about 5 years ago they raised our taxes (one of the biggest in WA state history) using an “emergency” clause claiming the viaduct (which is also chocked full of potholes) was unsafe and that it needed to be rebuilt as soon as possible. How many years ago was that?

    I actually heard Mayor Nickels claim in an interview that he is nervous when driving over the viaduct and he speeds up to get over it faster. And now our governor is talking about tearing down the viaduct in 2012 with no replacement. Where did the money raised under the “emergency” clause go to, potholes?


  • Eddie February 3, 2008 (3:18 pm)

    Will wonders ever cease? It looks as thought comeone actually did a very nice fix on that repeat problem on 44th between Alaska and Edmunds – infront of the new apartment building. It had repeatedly been “fixed” – half-a**d covered with asphalt – until sometime this weekend it got the royal, cement treatment.

    Good on the city for that one – finally!

  • Jerald February 3, 2008 (5:47 pm)

    MikeV2.0 — I’m surprised with your background that you call concrete “cement” – they’re not the same thing.

  • marie February 3, 2008 (9:09 pm)

    Casey, I’m with you on this one. I’ve wondered for a long time why they pile up a mound of repair materials only to have it break apart in no time. I don’t know whether it’s asphalt or concrete, but I do know that the patch is often as hard to drive on as the pothole. Have you sent this to the dailies? With your comments? It is outrageous. I thought the pothole agenda of the mayor was a joke when he first declared it, and since the situation has gotten so much worse, I see that it really was a joke.

  • Casey February 4, 2008 (9:37 am)

    I can not speak for MikeV2.0 but I will freely admit I do not know much about paving materials other than what I see ALL OVER THE ROADS!

    However I do know about prep work and finish materials in general. I do a lot of painting so I know how important the prep work of the surface (including temperature) to be repaired (new or old) is “key” to a long lasting successful finish.

    There is no doubt in my mind that the same applies to pothole repairs. I think the city is trying to keep up with potholes because of the Mayors promise not to make the roads safer. I have come to the conclusion that potholes can not be fixed correctly in this city under the conditions with the material used.

    Thanks to all for the mostly supportive input. I have only just begun, potholes today reduce traffic by 10% at rush hour next! Fix or improve what we have before moving on to something new! Casey

  • Mikev2.0 February 4, 2008 (10:03 am)

    first off I have to say “Bruno” is awful. I hope this raised scrutiny gets it fixed.


    Yikes you called me out: we never dealt with either back home, I did say “interned” not 100s of years of experience. Honestly I had a mind fart.

    Ok so we stop “temporarily” fixing potholes, how much will that really save us, when compared to repaving etc. I agree this city spends alot of money on things that are not my priorities. I’m also new here so I haven’t seen the taxes go up to no result.

  • JumboJim February 4, 2008 (10:40 am)


    So are you saying that if a 1′ wide by 1′ deep pothole appears in January the street dept. shouldn’t do anything about it until July (or whenever its dry enough) since they apparently can’t “do it right” under winter weather conditions?

    Doesn’t make sense to me. That’s a heck of a lot of time driving over a pothole while we wait for the “perfect” fix.

  • Michael February 4, 2008 (11:14 am)

    Sorry Casey, but the City is right. That’s about all there is to say.

  • Loree February 4, 2008 (12:37 pm)

    I’ve been commuting that route every day for the last 8 1/2 years, and “Bruno” was a problem even before they repaved 35th. It’s never been properly fixed in that time, and the new paving only lasted a month or so before it cracked again. And it’s almost always wet there — I think JumboJim is right about there being a spring underneath the street.

  • m February 4, 2008 (1:44 pm)

    This just sounds like whining to me.

  • Iridius February 4, 2008 (2:50 pm)

    The year is 2008. Humanity is still plagued by the treacherous items known as “potholes”. We’ve sent men to the moon, people into orbit, created computers that can calculate at billions of operations per second, but yet, we’re still using the same process on roads that’s been around for many decades, not much more removed from the way the Romans did it.

    Hopefully I’ve made my point…

  • Paul February 4, 2008 (4:39 pm)

    Well, for my share, and I come from a land of frozen winters and bad potholes too. I am surprised at the amount of potholes in Seattle, and I just watched from my shop the city fix the 2 potholes that appeared over the last few days in front of my location at Fauntleroy and Raymond, and I have to admit, opening a bag of asphalt looking material and dumping it in the hole and not even using anything to push it into the street is really not a good fix to anything. Why not just dump sand in there? There is another one on 35th Ave SW on the west side of the street that is like a speed bump, another bad patch. Unfortunately it doesn’t slow down the traffic on 35th….

  • Casey February 4, 2008 (7:51 pm)

    Paul, do you think I could find the potholes that were repaired if I go to Fauntleroy and Raymond? Are they at the intersection?

    I want to take photos and track their lifespan. Thank you, Casey

  • elevated concern February 5, 2008 (10:46 am)

    Prior to the Mount St. Vincent facility being built at the turn of the century, the Mount was a small lake. Live springs are very active still, especially on 37th, 36th and 35th flowing down hill to the north. Take a drive in the 4700 block of 36th or 37th and you will see where the city had to rebuild the road last year. Shortly after the earthquake, we realized that the soil was disturbed and the live springs were redirected washing out not only the roads in places but the sidewalks and creating huge potholes. When I was forced to replace my “Bruno” driveway we discovered that there was an air space of 3 to 4 feet in places between the street surface and the ground that it should have been sitting on!

Sorry, comment time is over.