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Pothole Pitfalls: Transplant vs Local

01:00 January 01, 1970
By: Sarah Ashley Jolly

Pothole Pitfalls 

Meet Meghan, a brilliant and ever-so-clever local who is taking life by the beads and filling the pothole problem in one of the most authentically NOLA ways-- with beads. 

How did we get here?

Here’s the thing…according to Reader’s Digest, New Orleans has the worst roads in the nation. To locals, transplants, and tourists alike the problem couldn’t be more obvious. It’s those damn potholes. It’s the one across from your house, the one in front of your workplace, that one you tripped over last week. Business Insider reports what you probably feel like you already know, New Orleanians spend about 700 dollars annually on auto repairs due to poor roads. It goes without saying but I’ll save you the breath: potholes are a problem. So here we are, a transplant (myself) and a local (Meghan), hashing out the ins and outs, ups and downs and escape routes to the pothole problem that is plaguing New Orleans. Let’s begin: Has it always been this way? Was there a day in New Orleans where your car didn’t go bump, your bike not thump and your wallet not shrink due to this exhausting issue?

Meghan: After the storm I bought a house in the Irish Channel, up in that golden Sliver by the River that doesn’t flood during storms, owing to its enviable seat nearly nine feet above sea level.  I’d been waiting to find that perfect New Orleans home since 2003, since falling in love with everything that makes this city so uniquely wonderful.  And the little cottage on Saint Thomas was everything I could have wanted.  Except for the roads.  

The roads here have never been what you’d call great, but they were relatively passable after the storm, a patchwork of asphalt and precarious bumps and dips.  In recent years, however, as the construction activity has escalated considerably and heavy eighteen-wheel trucks rumble down residential streets, the state of our roads has borne the brunt of that expansion, and all who pass feel the pain.

On our sleepy block, two holes opened up this past year, gaping maws that were deep and wide enough to blow out tires and injure cyclists. I’m not being colorful.  I have the luxury of working from home and spend most of my time camped five yards from the largest hole, listening to the symphony of bouncing metal and curses day in and day out.  After Mardi Gras I bandaged a cyclist that flew over his handlebars and ripped open a knee on our hole, and at least three vehicles have blown out tires. Despite all efforts at repair, the holes continue to grow.


Sarah Ashley: Tourist or transplant, whatever “T” word you choose; I haven’t been here all too long. I’m a writer, a lover and a fighter. These streets have been the gateway to the best of times and the worst of times for me:  That time I got a flat around midnight downtown, and all those other times where the natives and locals gave me the stink eye for going too slow, too fast, or for that awful scraping noise that screeches every time my little sedan polishes the asphalt uptown. It seems to me no matter where I go in the city, the road is not my friend. And I’m new here, and could use all the friends I could get...

 Will it be fixed?

Meghan: Mayor Landrieu has been participating in local meetings lately to discuss the city’s budget, which has presented opportunity for direct feedback and a plea for repair.  The city allocated $2.5 million for street maintenance in the 2015 budget, with the expectation of increased road maintenance crews to fill 40,000 potholes this year.  They’ve also deployed the Road Tester 3000, a $500,000 white van (the bulk of which FEMA paid for) that is scanning the streets to collect information to analyze road conditions.

The Department of Public Works’ Maintenance Division is responsible for filling potholes, along with aide from the single largest infrastructure investment in New Orleans, the FEMA-Funded Recovery Roads Program.  The Recovery Roads Program is a comprehensive recovery strategy to repair Hurricane Katrina-related damages on and beneath city-managed streets throughout New Orleans, which most certainly applies to the lion’s share of the pockmarked roadways.  

 Can it be fixed?

Meghan: The city currently operates two Pothole Killers: large trucks first introduced to New Orleans in 2007 that repair smaller potholes with a spray fill (ostensibly replacing a traditional four-man potholing crew), but they’re not equipped to address the more critical problems that dominate roadways.  What we ultimately have is a frustrating confluence of a lack in resources and budget appropriation: there simply aren’t enough people out there fixing the streets to keep tempo -- or even catch up -- with the decay.  And, where funds have been allocated for road repairs, we’re mostly seeing it applied to major roadways and for special events (see: the sweeping upgrades downtown that saw fresh roads by the Superdome when Super Bowl XLVII  came to town).  This has left neighborhood streets -- those we stumble in and out of every day, with holes that’ll shake your bones and grab your tires  -- largely ignored.

What may be most frustrating to dear taxpayers is the realization that the longer the surface infrastructure is left to crumble, the more it will cost to fix.  According to the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission of the U.S. Congress, the failure to spend $1 in road repair typically results in $7 of cost five years later, while whole road rebuilding costs 14 times as much as repairs.

Today’s headache can be next year’s nightmare; how will the city budget support an even greater cost in years to come if it can’t manage to address road safety presently?

What do we do in the mean time? 

Meghan: There are a lot of New Orleanians working hard to keep the level of this conversation loud, add yours!  We recently started, a website that I hope will create an accurate visual representation of the unsafe conditions of the public roadways in New Orleans.  Users can anonymously submit images of their own potholes, update the conditions of existing potholes on the site, or simply spend some time flipping through the worst our city has to offer.  Content is collected from user submissions, my own bike squiggles around town on two wheels, and public social media posts.  Help us fill the map with colored pegs and illustrate the problem!

Resources (Here’s what you can do)

Come on in, join the conversation folks.  Next time you find yourself in a pothole conundrum: 

You know why it needs to be fixed, whether you’re local or not -  it’s a problem, a nuisance and even those are polite understatements. Rally like New Orleans is known for and let’s fix the ditch, people.

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