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Friday, July 19, 2024

Pothole season is here. How is Indianapolis dealing with it?

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(Photo provided/WFYI)

Every winter Indianapolis roadways take a beating, and the Department of Public Works is tasked to repair hundreds of thousands of potholes.

WFYI’s Jill Sheridan sat down with DPW Director Brandon Herget to talk about this year’s pothole season and why Indianapolis gets hit so hard.

Jill Sheridan: We just want to understand a little bit more… There was a very hard freeze last month and it seemed like the roads just opened up. Talk a little bit about the process that we hear about, you know, that thaw and freeze that really impacts our roadways.

Brandon Herget: Yeah, so we live in a city that in some places has 100 year old infrastructure, right. And unfortunately, that freeze thaw cycle that you mentioned, we’ve seen that get worse and worse over the last few years, we’ve talked a lot about at the department, dealing with the real time impacts of climate change.

So in January, as you pointed out, we saw precipitation, mostly in the form of rain, not as much in snow. But that precipitation does get down then into the cracks and fissures that develop over time in our roadways.

And when that happens, that freeze thaw cycle starts to break down the substructure underneath the asphalt in the pavement.And that winds up creating those voids that become potholes that all of us deal with as we drive our city streets.

Sheridan: We know that Indianapolis roadways, like you mentioned, are a lot older than some of our surrounding suburbs and that plays into it as well. I mean, we have older infrastructure.

Herget: Older infrastructure, and it’s not just what’s at the surface, it’s also what’s underneath. We have old stormwater infrastructure, we have old utility infrastructure, we have all sorts of factors that play into how our roads are deteriorating in some areas. And so knowing that we’ve put a plan in place where we’ve grown our capital budget year over year for the past eight years.

We have a $284 million capital budget this year. And when construction season starts here, at the end of March, beginning of April, we’re going to have a bunch of projects going across our entire county. But also focused here in the short term with filling potholes, and having the right crews and the right material necessary to do that as efficiently as possible.

Sheridan: And we have seen crews out you know, especially it’s a big week in Indianapolis crews out filling potholes, we’re now using the hot mix earlier than ever talk a little bit about why that makes a difference.

Herget: It makes a huge difference. I’ve talked a couple times about this and there are three main factors when it comes to maintenance. It’s the right train personnel, which we certainly have or the best staff that we’ve had in a long time at DPW.

It also requires the right material. And we got access to that material, the first week of February, that beat our previous record from last year by three full weeks. And that’s because of the partnership that we have with our local suppliers. And the work that previous directors and the mayor and the council have put into establishing those relationships and the budgets.

And then Mother Nature. And that’s the one we can’t control. And so thankfully last week, we saw temperatures all the way up in the 60s, which meant our crews could get out there and use that hot mix material that needs to be 45 degrees or above in order to use that material so you get the good bind.

And so last week real to get started early, we had 170 crew members out a day on 10 hour shifts. And we dropped over 475 tons of asphalt on our city streets and filled 22,000 potholes again just last week alone. And that’s three times as many as we had done previous the year over a year.

Sheridan: Knowing that, you know, a complete rehaul of the infrastructure really makes a difference as far as long term improvement for people on the roadways. Talk about the long term plans.

Herget: Yeah, so again, we have a $284 million capital plan this year alone over the next five years. That’s a $1.2 billion capital plan. That’s the largest by far that we’ve ever seen as a city. And that’s because of a very aggressive budgeting of working together with partners at the state house and addressing some of the inequities of the road funding formula and being aggressive in pursuing federal grants and other grant opportunities.

So we’ve got a lot of work to do, is what that means, but I think there is a lot of work to do and our constituents are counting on us to get it done.

Residents may report potholes at Request Indy or through the Mayor’s Action Center.

Contact WFYI city government and policy reporter Jill Sheridan at jsheridan@wfyi.org.

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