At a meeting of the Milwaukee Common Council’s Public Works Committee on April 26, 2023, representatives from the city’s Department of Public Works were grilled by aldermen about the state of potholes in Milwaukee.
City Engineer Kevin Muhs, when asked if there was a particular area of the city that was seeing more requests for service about potholes, said that’s not the case.
“Our request/resolve was basically the same across the districts, percentage-wise. Frankly, this is bad everywhere,” he said.
According to data presented by DPW, there have been over 3,000 requests for a pothole to be filled in March of this year, and over 2,500 requests in April, covering up until April 21. That’s hundreds more potholes reported this year than either 2022 or the six-year average for the same time period.
The main question aldermen wanted answered was this: Why are there so many and what are you going to do about it?
“We need to know, because I’ve got a town hall [on April 27] and I know I’m going to get beat up on for potholes,” said Alderman Lamont Westmoreland.
Muhs offered a number of explanations for why 2023 in particular has seen so many car-jarring potholes.
“We had a lot of snowstorms that occurred on a Thursday and Friday, things were not thawed yet by Saturday for us to actually fill the potholes,” Muhs said. “And then by Monday/Tuesday, over and over again, it warmed up which causes more potholes.”
Alderman Robert Bauman pointed out that the weather was the same in other Milwaukee County municipalities – what is making this a city-specific issue in Milwaukee?
“We have many, many more potholes because we had 20 to 25 years, historically, that we did not invest much at all in our local paving program at the city level,” Muhs said.
Alderman Jonathan Brostoff told WTMJ that the pothole issue is reflective of a broader lack of funding that the city faces.
“At the end of the day we just don’t have the resources and capacity as a city right now to take care of these issues,” Brostoff said.
The number of staff working on filling potholes has declined from 100 to 67. Muhs says that’s in part because of eliminating some positions but also due to staffing shortages that the city is facing in all departments.
“The staff that we have out there, due to the demand, are being quite efficient,” he said.
That staffing issue is often mitigated on Saturdays, when DPW offers overtime work to other crews, such as electrical or sanitation workers.
Muhs told the committee that these expanded pothole crews will often use Saturday as a day to catch up on their list of potholes to cross off – but the privately owned asphalt plants are not open, preventing this work.
Muhs said he expects that won’t happen until mid-May.
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