About those potholes: ‘Much greater problem,’ says Rasmussen

(1/3/11 High Point-area photo by Deanie Schwarz)
As evidenced in discussions like this and this, potholes are on almost everyone’s mind as we roll down the rutted roads of West Seattle. After hearing the subject came up during the City Council Transportation Committee‘s meeting the other day, we asked the committee’s chair, West Seattle-residing Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, about his take on the holes we love to hate (and wish would get filled). He wrote this reply for WSB (in other words, for you):

All about Potholes and Road Maintenance
Tom Rasmussen
Seattle City Council

When he first became Mayor, Greg Nickels made potholes a priority. His goal was to have them filled within 48 hours of a complaint.

While his goal was laudable, and helped in the short term, the reality is that potholes are a symptom of a much greater problem which is that our roads are deteriorating and the City is not able to keep up with the need to properly maintain them.

On Tuesday, at the City Council Transportation Committee meeting, I asked Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) director Peter Hahn to tell us what the department is doing to repair potholes. You can view the meeting here:

We were told that SDOT has a backlog of about 500 pothole reports compared to the average of 200. Today the new goal of SDOT is to fill potholes within 72 hours.

Because of the backlog, the number of pothole crews was increased from three to nine in December. SDOT has a permanent street maintenance crew based in Lincoln Park that repairs potholes everyday in West Seattle. For this season’s emphasis, one of the added crews will go to West Seattle three to four times a week. The additional crews will continue their work at least through January.

Mr. Hahn stated that “potholes are a symptom” of deferred maintenance. When maintenance is deferred the deteriorating surface allows water to undermine the roadbed. Freeze and thaw conditions create breaks resulting in potholes. This winter has had such conditions.

Mr. Hahn pointed out that spot repairs don’t last very long and will have to be redone multiple times. SDOT is looking at a more enduring way of filling potholes with new equipment which it has tested last year.

Seattle does not have sufficient funds to maintain and repair its streets adequately. In 2006 with the passage of the nine-year, Bridging the Gap levy an additional $365 million became available for transportation maintenance and repairs.

However, since 2008, because of the recession, SDOT has experienced a significant drop in its traditional revenues sources. State Gas Tax revenue has declined by 2% and the General Fund (comprised of sales tax, property taxes, B&O taxes and utility taxes) has declined 21% and Real Estate Excise Tax has declined by 60%.

SDOT’s non-Bridging the Gap revenues (adjusted for inflation) have declined from $81 million in 2008 to $59.7 million in 2010. A decline of 26%.

To help meet the need to maintain our streets the City Council last fall approved the creation of a Transportation Benefit District and approved a $20 vehicle license fee. The vehicle license fee will go into effect this spring and will raise about $6.5 million annually for street repairs and maintenance and other transportation needs.

Please report any potholes or other street maintenance needs you may see by calling the ROAD line at (206) 684-ROAD (7623) or by using the online form at seattle.gov/transportation/potholereport.htm. Those contact methods get the information to Street Maintenance dispatch more directly than other methods.

If you have questions or comments, please write me at tom.rasmussen@seattle.gov

21 Replies to "About those potholes: 'Much greater problem,' says Rasmussen"

  • whycause January 13, 2011 (10:15 am)

    Instead of paying for a hole to be filled in over and over again, why aren’t those funds and materials diverted to actually repaving the whole street?

  • Rod January 13, 2011 (10:35 am)

    Perhaps because there is not enough money to repave most of the roads in Seattle.

  • datamuse January 13, 2011 (10:49 am)

    Whycause, searching around for some numbers on other municipal repaving projects, I’m seeing that it can cost upward of $120,000 PER MILE to repave a two-lane road. Conversely, patching a pothole runs you $20-$50 per. With the money it would cost to repave one mile of road, you can repair 2400 potholes…or more.
    The foregoing are just rough guesstimates so I’d welcome more strongly supported numbers from anyone who has them or cares to take the time to look for them. But this says to me that it’s not just a simple matter of reallocating. (Also, it takes considerably more time to repave a street than to fill a pothole.)
    This New York Times article outlines a similar problem to what we’re having, in New Jersey from a couple of years ago. It mentions another possible factor that Councilmember Rasmussen didn’t: asphalt is itself a petroleum product and therefore getting more expensive, just like gasoline.

  • WSconstructionguy January 13, 2011 (11:01 am)

    And now for the a-political answer:

    Blatant mismanagement by previous politician/administrations of public funds. They have directed appropriated funding to their pet projects. Maintenance and upgrade cost for infrastructure should not be an option in deciding yearly fiscal appropriations. Pols pandering to the contributors to their PACs are the cause.

  • BumpyRoads January 13, 2011 (11:06 am)

    My question is if road maintenance is an issue and there is major backlogs why did the city install the halfsy speed bumps on 16th SW that require constant upkeep. I fully support slowing down drivers but these speed bumps have a pointless gap in the middle. When people started driving down the middle of the road to avoid the bump a row of flimsy yellow flags was installed to deter the action. Unfortunately they still do and the flags seem to be knocked down and replaced every few weeks. I wonder how many man-hours and dollars are spent replacing yellow flags when a bit more concrete could have solved the whole problem for good and the road crews could move on to more pressing road issues. Maybe I’m missing something…

  • CB January 13, 2011 (11:07 am)

    This problem will only get worse with our mayor who is openly against any infrastructure improvement projects.

  • sam-c January 13, 2011 (11:43 am)

    Bridging the gap was a property levy tax. have property taxes really gone down that much? mine haven’t. the levy was also complemented by a commercial parking tax and…
    that quoted 26% decline is very frustrating.

    also, considering that the current economy created such a favorable bidding climate, seems like they should get more for less. most bids the last couple of years seem to be around 10% less than estimates…

  • Mike January 13, 2011 (12:17 pm)

    “State Gas Tax revenue has declined by 2%”

    odd, there are more people buying gas than ever before and I do believe we pay more in gas taxes than ever before. Maybe I had a different math teacher than the politicians in charge, but I’m pretty sure math works the same around the globe.

  • Dr who January 13, 2011 (1:55 pm)

    With all this money that we don’t have…funny how I keep seeing these bike lanes popping up all over the place. I know that reflective paint, 6 guys out and a flagger have to add up to something to where I only maybe see a few bikers actually use them ( from my vantage points at fauntleroy,north queen anne). Way to go seattle. I’m not against biking to work, but it’s just common sense that we share the road! I wouldn’t be suprised if next we have painted figures of people walking on the side walks…

  • marty January 13, 2011 (2:55 pm)

    It’s easy to see why everyone gets frustrated whenever pothole situations make us pay attention to the generally poor condition of our roads. I guess we figure that paying such high taxes on everything should generate enough cash to give us decent roads. Guess not…

  • datamuse January 13, 2011 (5:01 pm)

    odd, there are more people buying gas than ever before
    Really? Got some data on that, Mike?

  • LyndaB January 13, 2011 (5:31 pm)

    If anybody reads ‘Crankshaft’ in the comics section, you’ll remember that Crankshaft is in the middle of repaving his walkway with Lena’s fruitcakes. They’re hard as rock. Anybody have a recipe for a roadway?

  • Mike January 13, 2011 (8:41 pm)

    Just blew a tire, steering is off and have a grinding noise now. Just west of 18th Ave SW and Roxbury, watch out! It’s a pothole that was a previously filled pothole. I reported it to the pothole rangers and will be filing a reimbursement form to get the cost of fixes reimbursed.



    I just got my car back yesterday for other pothole damage, that was over $350 to have fixed, the previous one before that was $280. This one is looking to be in excess of $1k if it’s what I think is busted beyond just a $200 tire.

    I took pictures of the pothole and road sign near by. I’ll be talking to my insurance agent to see if they will help in my claim for reimbursement.

    The mayor wants more bikes, I might have to trade in my car for a Unimog with the way our roads are maintained.

  • Mike January 13, 2011 (8:53 pm)

    datamuse, just for you: http://green.autoblog.com/2010/07/11/study-gasoline-consumption-in-the-northwest-on-the-rise-despite/

    Driving a Prius 30 miles is the same as driving an H1 Hummer 10 miles.

  • D.C. January 13, 2011 (9:55 pm)

    However, since 2008, because of the recession, SDOT has experienced a significant drop in its traditional revenues sources. State Gas Tax revenue has declined by 2% and the General Fund (comprised of sales tax, property taxes, B&O taxes and utility taxes) has declined 21% and Real Estate Excise Tax has declined by 60%.
    SDOT’s non-Bridging the Gap revenues (adjusted for inflation) have declined from $81 million in 2008 to $59.7 million in 2010. A decline of 26%.
    To help meet the need to maintain our streets the City Council last fall approved the creation of a Transportation Benefit District and approved a $20 vehicle license fee.

    Is it just me or did this read like something out of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged?

  • Skeeter January 14, 2011 (11:00 am)

    WSB – thank you so much for covering this issue. I sent the following email to Tom this morning. I just want to know what I can do to help before someone gets hurt.
    Dear Tom,

    I am a West Seattle resident with a concern about our roadways. It is becoming increasingly difficult to drive safely in West Seattle. The potholes are so large and numerous that drivers are swerving all over the road to avoid damaging their cars.

    I am aware that potholes can be reported for a fix. The problem is the potholes are so numerous that it is difficult to report them all. I often drive on Delridge and Sylvan Way. There are in excess of 300 potholes within 1 mile of my house. It is not practical or possible to report them all. On Sylvan Way in particular, potholes are patched every week or so, only to have new ones open up within a few days.

    I am aware of the severe shortage of funds for road repair. What I struggle with, though, is understanding why other cities in Western Washington (Bellevue, Renton, Burien, Tukwila, Bremerton, etc) are able to keep their roads in much better condition than Seattle. Do these other cities collect more taxes? Do they allocate more tax revenue to road repairs? Do they negotiate more favorable rates for road repair?

    Tom, please let me know if there is anything I can do as a resident of West Seattle to help solve this problem. I would also be happy to meet with you in person if you’d like to discuss. My contact information is below.

    Thank you,


  • sam-c January 14, 2011 (1:15 pm)

    don’t forget- in addition to road improvements, bicycle lane improvements, and sidewalks (sometimes), Bridging the Gap funds landscape improvements as well. maybe that is where some of that money is going.



  • Mandee January 17, 2011 (12:04 pm)

    As a warning to anyone driving up Highland Park Drive… on Saturday evening, I was driving up the big hill, hit a pothole, and blew out both my front and rear passenger-side tires. This was a complete nightmare. I had to get a tow, and am now car-less until Friday when my replacement tires are set to come in. (I commute up to Everett daily, so this is very inconvenient.) If anyone has any advice as to how I should file a claim with the City of Seattle, I’d greatly appreciate it. I’m already over $500 in repairs for this, and I still need to get the alignment and axels checked for damage. Can’t believe the City’s negligence has caused so many problems!

  • Sue January 17, 2011 (7:04 pm)

    I hit a very bad pothole south of Costco on 4th Ave. S., between Dawson & Brandon (going southbound on 4th) on Saturday. It’s right where the right lane meets the parking lane line, and I didn’t see it because of the rain and it was dark. Swallowed up my wheel and took the car out of my control momentarily – very scary! (Went back to look today during daylight and it’s very deep.) Now something is rattling that never did before and I’ve got to go get it checked out for damage. I reported the pothole to the city, but I hope any damage is minimal, especially since the car is only 2 years old.

  • Alison January 18, 2011 (2:16 am)

    BS! Ride down delridge. They haven’t touched a pothole in years but was right on the useless lane change thing on admiral way. Sorry… I vent. Ug the potholes are crazy and I ride a motorcycle and it scares the crap out of me. Call me a girl ( because I am) but A LOT of those potholes jar my full size truck pretty hard. I can’t imagine what would happen on a bike.

  • datamuse January 20, 2011 (2:01 pm)

    Thanks, Mike. I agree that seems curious, so I dug around a little. The 2% figure given above seems to be cumulative since 2008, while the source you cited talks about consumption rising starting in 2009. And it seems that gas tax revenue was up for the year in 2010, according to the state Department of Revenue.
    Back on the main topic…I discovered earlier this week that that northbound right lane on Delridge, south of Orchard as you pass the police station, is not a good place to drive. I hit four or five good-sized potholes and I’m amazed I didn’t lose a tire.
    When I was growing up in the D.C. area, one year the city was so badly off financially that some streets were almost un-drivable. I remember one where area residents, fed up waiting for a particularly large pothole to be repaired, temporarily fixed the problem with an old mattress. Now THAT’s a bad pothole situation.

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