CBS4 Investigates significant drop in driver requests to fill Indy potholes

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INDIANAPOLIS — Three years after the mayor of Indianapolis declared an emergency to deal with potholes, requests to the city have decreased significantly.

CBS4 looked into possible reasons for the decline, which you can see represented below.

According to data provided by the city’s Department of Public Works, requests to fill potholes dropped by 50% in 2020. Requests always spike early in the year, but in January 2021, the drop was even more dramatic: drivers put in less than 800 reports, compared to 3,000 in the same period a year earlier.

We took our questions about the dramatic decrease to DPW Director Dan Parker, who was there in early 2018 when Mayor Joe Hogsett declared an emergency to deal with major pothole issues across the city.

Parker attributes the decline in requests to three things: more consistent winter weather, the COVID-19 pandemic and the extra money the city has spent on road repairs.

“We’re building up the base and foundation of streets instead of just taking off layers of pavement at the top,” Parker said. “We want our projects to last longer, and I think, at least I hope, residents have seen the investments that we’ve made.”

The data also showed a rise in potholes filled by DPW crews in 2019, after the city added a second shift to accommodate additional needs. You can look at the data, broken down by year, below.

“We’ve changed the way we’ve operated. We’ve made investments in equipment and people, and I would think a lot of that is paying off,” Parker said.

The pandemic contributed to a drop in those numbers, due to the stay at home order and adjustments the city made to keep crews socially distant.

“We did get some CARES [Act] reimbursement dollars for the leasing of additional trucks to separate folks out so we don’t have six people in one truck,” Parker said.

There’s another big reason reports by drivers could have dropped in 2020, though: less drivers on the roads in the first place.

Engineering firm HNTB’s flagship office on Monument Circle has been largely empty for the past year as 85% of employees took their work home.

“I still come downtown … three to four days a week, and I have personally noticed that commuter traffic is down,” Vice President Tim Miller said.

Less commuters means a smoother drive, but Miller hoped to see more drivers on the roads if it meant getting back to normal office life once more Hoosiers could get vaccinated. In fact, HNTB is currently renovating new office space in order to accommodate a return to in-person operations.

“Most employees want to come back and be along their colleagues,” Miller said. “We can sit here and wait or we can prepare for that return.”

That return could come with an easier drive, if the sharp drop in pothole reports holds up as an indication that Indianapolis’ roads are getting better.

The next step, according to Parker, will be finding a way to fund repairs to neighborhood streets. Currently, the city prioritizes paving projects by the amount of traffic on the road.

To report a pothole to the city or view requests in your area, go the city’s mapping tool at the link here.

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