U.S. Mayor Article

Seattle's Mayor Enlists "Pothole Rangers" to Help Improve Road Conditions

August 5, 2002


Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels recently celebrated his first 100 days in office with the completion of a 100 Day Agenda aimed at restoring confidence in city government. Nickels- 100 Day Agenda focused on his governing philosophy of taking care of the basics. "I have always felt that if government takes care of the smaller things, than the people will entrust you with the larger challenges," the mayor stated.

As a newly elected mayor, Nickels was anxious to show that government could be both active and efficient. He was committed to ensuring that the city could take care of its basic responsibilities. Prior to his election, the city of Seattle had weathered a series of tough challenges. From the World Trade Organization protests to the Nisqually Earthquake, Seattle's traditional westward looking optimism had been shaken.

Immediately after his election, Mayor Nickels launched a 100 Day Agenda to show that the city could make an everyday difference in people's lives. The goal of his agenda was to boost the city's economy, ease traffic congestion, improve basic city services and strengthen community bonds. Among the mayor's initiatives were the appointment of an Economic Opportunity Task Force to develop a new strategy for strengthening Seattle's economy and a restructuring of the Department of Neighborhoods and the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT). But, what has proved to be the biggest hit among Seattle residents has been the mayor's Pothole Rangers program designed to repair potholes within 48 hours of being reported to the Seattle Department of Transportation.

Like most cities, potholes have been a pervasive problem for Seattlites navigating the city's roadways. Improving the city's response to fixing potholes was one of Mayor Nickels- top priorities. Why? Because potholes big and small can present safety hazards, damage vehicles and add to traffic congestion.

How this problem occurs seems like a mission for Bill Nye the Science Guy, the host of a public broadcasting system science show for children. Most potholes are created when two factors of weather combine - rain and low temperatures. In order for a pothole to appear, rain water must penetrate the asphalt of pavement that has been weakened by everyday wear and tear. Once inside, if the water freezes and then thaws, the asphalt is weakened. If this pattern is repeated a few times, a pothole results. Relatively mild weather over the past years has meant fewer potholes, but whenever it rains Seattle gets more.

As part of his 100 day Agenda, the mayor pledged that city would fill and repair any pothole that was reported within 48 hours. "It's no secret that potholes are the roadway hazards that everyone loves to hate," Nickels said when he first announced his pledge. People were given 24 hour hotlines to call-in potholes that they saw when travelling to work and home.

Upon receiving a report, workers from SDOT investigated every pothole. Those potholes which could be fixed on'the'spot were immediately repaired. Street conditions that needed more comprehensive repair were made safe and referred to SDOT for permanent repair.

The equipment and the crews out in the field responding to these reports are called "Pothole Rangers." They work with "hotboxes" — trucks fitted with boxes on the back that keep asphalt mix hot for efficient and longer lasting pothole repairs. A hot box and crew are assigned to each quadrant of Seattle. Each day they receive a list of reported potholes. They then schedule their work so that they take care of all the potholes reported in one area at the same time. The Rangers also look for unreported potholes on arterial streets.

Last year, two out of three potholes reported were repaired or made safe within two days. As a result of the mayor's directive for renewed focus on these hazards, SDOT has most recently reported that 9 out of 10 potholes were filled or made safe within 48 hours.

It's not just the mayor and SDOT who are working hard to address these menaces. Citizens are helping out as well by diligently reporting potholes. In fact, so far this year the city has filled more than 1,100 potholes.

This program's success was not just results oriented but also an inspiration for civic activism. In fact, the local NBC affiliate was so taken with the Pothole Rangers that they decided to test other Puget Sound area cities- response times for pothole repairs. The mayor's office even posted on their website, a "number of potholes served" counter inspired by McDonalds- "over 1 billion served" slogan. All this culminated in a "one thousandth pothole" celebration where the mayor was joined by a citizen truck driver who had called in the one thousandth pothole.

"The Pothole Rangers have been a tremendous success," said Mayor Nickels. "They have accomplished their goals, restored public confidence in city government, and reduced road hazards and traffic congestion. This is just one shining example of how when things are done right, local government can make a difference in people's lives," the mayor added.

To learn more about Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and his 100 Day Agenda, visit his website at www.cityofseattle.net/mayor.

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