I am guilty as charged when it comes to this mindset. When I see a problem, I often wonder how the city could allow such a thing to happen, to fester, to become a bigger problem than it had to be. Of course, city agencies can't be everywhere at once—citizens have to be the eyes on the ground that alert the agencies about problems. Ideally, the city will use that citizen input to fix a problem as soon as is reasonable.
Seeing water coming up out of the middle of the street would qualify as a problem, one would imagine. Last fall, after moving to Trinidad, I noticed water seeping out of the pavement on the 1600 block of Montello Avenue NE. Google Maps' Street View caught the problem occurring before that even, during the summer of 2009:
View Larger Map
A pothole eventually developed here. Buses like the D4 and D8 plowed through it, causing it to grow larger and larger, so the city finally came through and did some repaving work, which appeared to fix the problem. Fast-forward to March 2010, and the pothole came back. A metal plate was placed over that hole, while water continued to come up from the ground below.
Water flowed downhill from the hole in the street, like a spring giving rise to the beginning of a mighty river (not really, but that sounds more appealing, doesn't it?).
The images below show you what it looked like last week. Someone removed the metal plate. I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that neighborhood kids didn't pick it up and walk away with it as a prank. Buses and cars continued to drive through the pothole, making it to grow hour-by-hour.
Traffic driving through the hole was splashing water over the roof of the blue car on the right, and gravel sprayed in every direction once tires made contact with the 6-inch deep puddle.
Sometime in the last couple of days, more asphalt was poured into the hole, in what appears to be a pretty half-assed attempt to fix this problem. Clearly, water is still running out from underground, which means the picture below will resemble the picture above in a short period of time.
The neverending pothole.
Now, here's the part of this story where I tell you this is more than just a farce—attempts have been made to really remedy the problem. Instead of just complaining about this on the Internet, I started sending emails to WASA a month ago, alerting them to the presence of water flowing out of a neighborhood street (as well as multiple other water issues in the neighborhood, which I will address in a future post). I even sent pictures of the leak as evidence. A customer service representative told me that crews inspected the area and determined that there were no leaks. Almost incredulously, I replied that something certainly must be leaking—why would there be water actively pouring out of the middle of a city street?
The WASA representative informed me that a second crew would be dispatched to double-check on the leaky street. When I asked what they found, this is what I was told (on March 22):
The work order for 1635 Montello Ave., NE was closed. After several investigations, checking a water sample in the area, and an inspection from a foreman, they concluded there is not a leak resulting from a break on a main near that address. We suspect this location is saturated with ground water as we noticed water coming from another elevation when crews excavated the site to ensure no breaks exist. There was a substantial repair on a valve at Holbrook and Montello Ave. in January. It is possible that the leaking water from that valve saturated the ground near 1635 Montello Ave., and what you see now is that water draining. Another possibility is that a home or business in the area is discharging water from a sump pump to dry their grounds. If you can send me your pictures, I would be happy to pass them along to the foreman for his review.Since then, I have heard nothing further from WASA. As you can see, some agency has taken the time to "fix" this problem, but clearly this is not done in a way that anyone would define as satisfactory. Perhaps the explanation above is correct—this is simply ground saturation forcing its way to the surface. If so, it appears that Montello Avenue will have a permanent pothole at this location.
On March 11, before the discussion excerpted above, I received this note from Alan Heymann, the director of Public Affairs for WASA, in response to my concerns:
We had a number of problems in the vicinity of Florida and Trinidad Avenues – I seem to recall five breaks in that one area on a single day in January. The median age of a water main in the District of Columbia is 75 years. They break a lot this time of year. Our capital improvement program, which is funded mainly with ratepayer dollars, calls for replacing 1/3 of one percent of our infrastructure each year. We’re working to up that to one percent in the next budget cycle, which means we’ll be completely replacing the water infrastructure every 100 years. It would be great to do it even faster, but the ratepayers are sensitive – with good reason – about increases.I fully understand that our infrastructure is ancient, and it's going to take a lot of money to properly repair that infrastructure, instead of just committing to patch jobs to fix the most egregious problems. I also know that this has been a very long-running issue in Trinidad, as I've spoken with fellow riders on the D4 and D8 who have said that potholes and sinkholes have opened up on Montello and Trinidad Avenues for decades now.
This particular pothole is going to haunt me until it gets fixed properly. It appears that city agencies are happy with the "fix" at this point (or perhaps this is all they can afford to do—I don't fault WASA for having to move mountains with a molehill budget). Expect to hear more from me about this in the future as I pursue it further.