It no longer takes nearly a month and a half for Tucson to fix potholes.
A report from the city’s Finance Department showed that in 2013, the average response time for pothole repairs had dropped to 16 days, compared with the previous year’s 42.
While the improvement is good news for area drivers, it still leaves Tucson trailing other major jurisdictions around the state by a large margin.
The addition of the chip-seal method of making repairs, on top of the usual hot asphalt patching method, contributed to the reduction in response time, said Daryl Cole, the city’s transportation director.
The city has focused on using the chip-seal method over the last 12 months, he said. It also retrofitted existing equipment and purchased new machinery to be able to execute both methods.
Both chip-seal and hot asphalt are effective, but cater to different types of potholes, Cole said. Chip-seal uses emulsified asphalt for smaller-depth potholes.
Having a second method and better equipment for both applications increased productivity, and retrofitting the equipment let crews work faster.
Adding the chip-seal option is only one of the reasons the response time has decreased, Cole said. Another is better communication system for service requests.
The steps it takes for a service request to go from a caller to the crew have been reduced, Cole said.
When a request is made, it used to be sent to pothole-management systems, and then rerouted again before it reached the maintenance crews. Now, Cole said the request goes from call takers to supervisors, who then distribute to the crews.
“We’ve gotten a little bit more efficient with processing,” he said. “The public has really helped us by telling us where the potholes are, which helps us respond better.”
Despite the improvement, the average response time is more than twice as long as the seven days it was in 2004.
The Transportation Department experienced budget cuts and staffing reductions over the years, which contributed to dramatically slowed responses. The Star reported in June 2013 that since 2003, 37 employees had been cut.
Tucson’s average response time, even after a 26-day improvement, still lags far behind other municipalities in the state surveyed by the Star.
The “worst-case scenario” for Flagstaff is 24 hours, said Kimberly Ott, spokeswoman for the city of Flagstaff. Pothole repairs are a high priority for the city, because of snow, she said.
That number can depend on the situation, but Ott said typically, crews are on standby to make immediate repairs.
Yuma’s average response time is 24 to 36 hours, according to Dave Nash, its spokesman.
Tempe does not track average response times, but usually, there are active response vehicles ready from the Public Works Department, said city spokeswoman Nikki Ripley.
She said the goal is to respond within a few hours.
Larger municipalities in the state had response times similar to those in Flagstaff, Yuma and Tempe.
Phoenix Streets Department spokesman Matthew Heil said crews “try to respond within 24 hours.”
Phoenix has a rapid-response program, as well as regular road maintenance and long-term maintenance programs for crack seal, he said.
Mesa, which a population roughly equal to Tucson’s, also responds within 24 hours.
In Pima County, crews aim to fix major roads within one to five business days, according to Priscilla Cornelio, director of the county’s Transportation Department.
For residential streets, repairs can take from one to three weeks, she said.
The city of Tucson is hoping to further address pothole repairs by asking voters for help at the next bond election, according to its transportation director.
“Pavement is deteriorating faster than we can keep up,” Cole said. “Today, we know our pavement is not in our best condition, but we’re doing everything to improve that.”