Controller: Streets Department not paving fast enough

The city Streets Department has been lagging behind on repaving Philadelphia's roads, leading to an increase in potholes, the City Controller's Office said Wednesday.

The Controller's Office found that the Streets Department paved 40 miles or less each year between 2011 and 2015, about a third of the city's goal. The city strives to pave 131 miles each year.

Meanwhile, the annual number of potholes filled by the Streets Department jumped from an average of 12,712 between 2008 and 2011 to 45,077 in 2014 and 48,274 in 2015.

City Controller Alan Butkovitz said the Streets Department's paving budget was cut during the recession and has not fully recovered.

"Steep budget cuts resulted in the city only [being able] to patch the problem rather than fix it," Butkovitz said in a statement.

Butkovitz's office examined records for 21,397 potholes the Streets Department filled between Jan. 1, 2015, and June 30, following a NBC10 news story that questioned the city's efficiency in filling potholes.

The office found that 78 percent of those potholes were filled within the recommended three-day period. But others were delayed for several days with some waiting months.

David Perri, who was streets commissioner for the last two years of the Nutter administration and is now the Licenses and Inspections commissioner, said that while the age of the streets can cause potholes, winter storms are the biggest pothole producers.

The two big snow storms in 2014 and 2015 and the freezing that followed led to an increase in potholes throughout the city, he said.

"Water gets in the cracks in the street and the freezing causes cracks to explode," Perri said.

Perri said that most streets need to be replaced every 10 or 20 years. In order to keep up with that (the city has 1,920 local streets to maintain), the city would need to repave 131 miles each year.

The closest it has gotten in recent years was 119 miles paved in 2009.

The cost to pave one mile is about $200,000, Perri said. The cost to fill one pothole is $22.

"Not meeting the street resurface goal exacerbated the pothole problem and required more time and resources to repair the defects," said Butkovitz. "It resulted in a pothole epidemic that the city has been playing catch-up [with] ever since."

Perri said that the city is trying to replace all curb ramps, which eat up a lot of the paving budget.

In 2010, for instance, the city's paving budget was $8.8 million, of which $6.4 million went to curb ramp replacements.

Now, he says, the city is managing curb ramp replacement differently. Instead of replacing ramps when a street is repaved, ramps are being replaced based on requests and not tied to repaving schedules. The result has been that the city is now spending 20 percent of its paving budget on ramp replacements, Perri said.

The city allocated $20 million this fiscal year, which ends June 30, for paving. Perri said the ideal budget number is $30 million.

"You do what the budget allows," he said.

The Controller's Office recommended that the city improve and monitor record-keeping to avoid multiple entries of the same case; improve coordination with PennDot; consider using drone technology to determine problem roads and monitor repairs regularly; and pursue increased funding so that the department can increase the number of roads paved each year.

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