News Columns & Blogs

Road Worrier: Help NCDOT test drive its 2-day pothole repair pledge

A pothole measuring more than 3 feet across appeared in Wendell in 2012. NCDOT is now required by law to fix any reported pothole within two business days.
A pothole measuring more than 3 feet across appeared in Wendell in 2012. NCDOT is now required by law to fix any reported pothole within two business days. aspecht@newsobserver.com

The clock starts ticking when you click the SUBMIT button.

When anybody reports a pothole on a state-maintained road, the state Department of Transportation has two business days to repair it.

That’s the law. The General Assembly last year ordered up a new “DOT Report” program in an effort to make government more responsive – in this small area, at least – to residents.

And potholes are a good place to start. Hey, if this works out, maybe we’ll go back and ask for clean energy and world peace.

Using a toll-free number or DOT’s revamped “Contact Us” Web page, you can report potholes and other ills, including clogged culverts, damaged shoulders, drainage issues, highway debris, and bad guardrails, traffic signals and traffic signs.

This quick two-day turnaround is mandated only for pothole fixes. DOT is allowed 10 business days to “properly address” other safety-related complaints, and 15 days for problems where safety is not at risk. The law took effect Jan. 1.

Larry D. Huff is one resident who welcomes this new accountability.

“Make ’em do what they’re supposed to do,” Huff said. “That’s what we pay our taxes for.”

He lives south of Raleigh in the Colonial Heights neighborhood, where potholes are a perennial problem on the state-maintained subdivision streets. He sometimes calls DOT’s Wake County maintenance office, and he says he sees results within a few days.

“I hit a pothole here pretty hard the other day, and I was going to call in about it,” said Huff, 72. “I noticed yesterday it’s been fixed.”

In Raleigh, state maintained roads include such high-traffic arteries as Glenwood Avenue and Capital Boulevard. Now DOT says there’s no need to look up that Wake County number, or the numbers for maintenance offices in 99 other counties. Call DOT’s toll-free number (877-368-4968) or go online to ncdot.gov/contact/.

You’ll be asked to explain the problem, with specifics (for example, on the pothole report form: Is it bad enough to damage a car?). Don’t forget to describe the location, including the county name, so DOT crews can find it. You’ll be asked for your contact information, so DOT can ask follow-up questions and let you know what happens.

The new Web form is plugged into DOT’s Citizen Action Request System (CARS). If that pothole is in, say, Chatham County, the message is supposed to be routed automatically to the Chatham maintenance office.

“So when the pothole repair crew comes in this morning, they can punch up that reporting system and see there’s a pothole report that came in last night,” said Steve Abbott, a DOT spokesman. “And they can go right out the door and fix it.”

It’s a technology upgrade that should work faster because it gets rid of an old human layer that was called … Steve Abbott.

Along with fielding reporters’ queries and writing news releases, Abbott used to read emails from across the state each day. He figured out where to send them, or he responded to the email with a request for more particulars.

“I was an extra layer,” Abbott said. “They basically are eliminating an extra layer. This helps us get better information from the citizen, and it helps us respond much better.”

The city of Raleigh made a comparable improvement last year in its online resident complaint program, which uses the SeeClickFix government feedback Web technology. Raleigh had a backlog a year ago with hundreds of unresolved complaints, partly because they were sorted by city employees who became a system bottleneck.

“Now when a citizen reports a pothole, that goes straight to our street maintenance folks and into their software system,” said Lou Buonpane, the city manager’s chief of staff. “They can quickly assign a crew to repair it and report back when it is resolved.”

Raleigh repaired 582 potholes in 2015 based on complaints filed at raleighnc.gov/ext/SeeClickFix, Buonpane said.

It’s not clear how well the new DOT program will work, and how much it will cost. DOT officials initially told the legislature’s fiscal analysts that the new deadlines would cost about $30 million a year. Later they revised their cost projection to near zero.

The DOT Report effort has not been publicized yet because DOT officials want to start out with a quiet test drive. Mild winter weather has given them a break, with fewer pothole problems than drivers usually encounter in January. Even so, DOT is patching 100 potholes a day in Wake County alone, Abbott said.

Larry Huff says he’ll be glad to help them out with their trial run.

“Yes, I will,” Huff said. “I’m sure I can find a pothole in my neighborhood without looking very hard.”

Click, and it shall be fixed

On Jan. 1, the state Department of Transportation quietly launched a program to field complaints about potholes and other road ills including problems with traffic signs and signals, guardrails and shoulders.

It’s online at ncdot.gov/contact/.

A new state law gives DOT two days to fix potholes, and it sets longer deadlines for other problems. Because residents aren’t always sure whether a particular road is maintained by local government or by DOT, the law requires DOT to forward the complaint to local government if necessary.

Many cities including Raleigh field complaints through the SeeClickFix.com website.

Durham invites residents to use its Durham One Call service for pothole reports and other concerns: 919-560-1200 or durhamnc.gov/1439/Durham-One-Call. To report a pothole in Cary, call 919-469-4090 or email potholes@townofcary.org.

  Comments