Potholes are still everywhere.
The menacing formations are a regular inconvenience for Midwestern drivers who brace for impact after each winter’s end. And as several weeks of fighting a flooding Mississippi River have drained Davenport’s public works crews of time and resources, city officials say they have been forced to play catch-up on many of their other seasonal duties like street repairs.
“Everyone’s been asking about potholes,” Public Works Director Nicole Gleason said Wednesday. “And looking at the numbers, I can see why.”
Davenport’s public works department tracks potholes by each block rather than individual potholes. As of last Friday, the city had nearly 500 city blocks in the pipeline for repair, where each block could have any number of individual potholes. More than 4,300 blocks had been repaired as of that time for a grand total of 54,590 potholes fixed.
That figure for the first six months of this year is nearly equal to the number of blocks visited by public works crews during all of 2018.
A long and harsh winter followed by a wet spring has presented an abnormal set of challenges for the city’s roads, Gleason said. While the city got out early with cold-mix to repair some of the damaged roads, there were many instances of snowfall and heavy rain that essentially washed out the work done.
“We’ve been in a really bad cycle of temporary fixes,” Gleason said.
Potholes typically form when water seeps under the asphalt roadway and freezes. The expansion of the water in its solid form creates pressure on the material, compounded by passing vehicular traffic that can cause the street to crack open.
This week, the Mississippi River dropped below flood stage for the first time within the past three months. The duration of flooding shattered the previous 1993 record of 42 days, according to local meteorologists with the National Weather Service.
Major flooding along with a disaster that struck the city’s downtown with the collapse of the city’s temporary levee have led to ballooning costs and overtime for the city’s public works employees. In late May, city officials estimated the cost of fighting the flood could be triple to quadruple the price tag of a typical year.
Gleason says city employees continue to work on flood cleanup as the Mississippi retreats to its banks. And as of Wednesday, the department had put nine work crews out on the street all week dedicated to fixing the potholes.
The most common repeat requests for road service, Gleason said, have been for the city's alleyways. The city prioritizes pothole repair based on the severity of the damage, the amount of vehicular traffic on the street and the speed limit for a given street.
“We want to make sure we’re keeping the roads as safe as possible,” Gleason said. “So … a lot of times if someone says they had a request in two or three months ago — especially if it’s an alley — that’s why.”
Requests for the service, often reported by residents, employees and elected officials, span the entire city, but are highly concentrated in the center of Davenport and many of the residential streets with the oldest neighborhoods.
Alderman Ray Ambrose, whose 4th Ward is experiencing a heightened number, says the state of the streets and alleyways has become a common complaint he hears from the residents he represents.
“There’s not a day goes by,” Ambrose said. “Every person that I’ve talked to says, ‘Hey we know your crews are working hard to address the flood, but when they get going please make sure my neighborhood street (or) my alley is on the list.'”
Over the years, Ambrose says the city’s public works has set a high standard that residents have come to expect when they drive down the city’s streets. And as the flooding disaster downtown this year has added strain to public works employees — many of whom went through weeks of nonstop overtime — he says the impact has been felt in every corner of Davenport.
“Personally I think our public works and our city as a whole has really done a remarkable job managing this year’s flood,” Ambrose said. “And I realize a lot of the businesses in the downtown have struggled. But our whole community has struggled (and) made sacrifices because of the flood.”