Maura In The News

Editorial: Right way, wrong way on potholes

West Roxbury Transcript - Thursday, April 29, 2004

Boston has always done a lousy job patching potholes. But the city seems to have sunk to new lows in recent years, as both crews and contractors use less fill that's also cheaper and thinner. No wonder it's hard to drive across the city without losing an axle, busting a tire or (for the hardy pedestrian) breaking an ankle.

Things have gotten so bad, you sort of have to wonder what the man responsible, DPW Commissioner Joe Casazza, would have to do to actually get fired?

Now we know: break the ankle of one of the Democratic conventioneers.

So, miracle of miracle, the city plans to spend millions of dollars to send out a brigade of workers to inspect and pave the roads around the FleetCenter. That means the delegates will miss the quintessential Boston experience of getting stuck in a bigger-than-a-breadbox (and VW) pothole.

A local birdie also reports the city had a special DPW crew at the marathon, to patch potholes on the spot, so none of the runners would disappear into one before a worldwide audience.

I guess it's only after you become a Boston resident that City Hall stops working for you.

The city does deserve some credit for following the lead of other cities and setting up a pothole hotline, which usually works. In the first 10 months of 2003, the DPW got complaints about 1,087 potholes and repaired 748, most within a day.

But it mostly deserve blame for allowing the infrastructure to get so bad. Every Northern city gets potholes as the ground thaws. But Boston has potholes 365 days a year, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. That takes a special kind of incompetence. Not only that, but the patches are getting worse and worse and the potholes deeper and deeper, with drivers paying hundreds and thousands of dollars in repairs that amount to an unofficial road tax. There was a lot of publicity about a biker recently, Tore Madsen, who walked into the hospital with a bloody face after taking a gainer on Cambridge Street. "I look like I fought Muhammad Ali, and lost," she told reporters.

But it happens all over the city. Edward Ford hit a pothole in Washington Street in West Roxbury that did a mere $1,540 worth of damage, and the city refused to cut a check, so the poor driver finally had to sue.

The worst part is the city has $22 million sitting in an account, money given to it by utilities and others who dig up the streets, but hoards it closely. The city also lets contractors, who dig 6,000 holes a year in Boston, get away with murder: the DPW virtually never inspects their work and never fines contractors, so they have all the incentive in the world to do shoddy work, and many do.

Maura Hennigan has taken a lot of flak for her use of the issue as a good stick to beat the mayor with, but she deserves a lot of credit for digging up all sorts of problems with the city streets.

She may have the right idea for the best solution, too: hold contractors and city workers to a much higher standard than they are now. That wouldn't smooth things out completely. But it would be a jarring change from the current effort.

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