Fed up with the city’s slow response in filling potholes, homeowners in the 4800 block of west Van Buren took matters into their own hands last week and patched their pothole-riddled street themselves.
Using several bags of store bought blacktop asphalt and a 400-pound hand push roller, residents filled nearly 15 potholes last Wednesday. The effort was to turn the city’s attention to neighborhood side streets, which many Austin residents claim are being neglected.
“They looked like they were bypassing us,” said Earnest Roberts, an Austin resident who has lived on that stretch of road for 42 years. Roberts and several of his neighbors took to the streets with shovels hoping to make residents commute down Van Buren less bumpy.
“People are tearing up their tires,” Roberts added.
The South Austin Community Coalition Council helped mobilize the neighborhood do-it-yourself pothole repair crew. SACCC organizer Bob Vondrasek noted the effort was a lesson in community organizing.
“People are just fed up,” he said. “This is the worst I have seen it in terms of how long it has taken (the city) to get to the potholes.”
Their efforts worked. Nearly two days after residents took to the streets, crews from the city’s Department of Transportation filled the remaining potholes.
Vondrasek was not surprised by the city’s actions, but he said he wasn’t letting them off that easy. The group vows to continue to pressure the city to do more side streets. He noted that Lavergne Street between Jackson and Madison are riddled with potholes.
“They have a long way to go,” he said.
The city contends that residents filling potholes on their own is not the best idea. Brian Steele, a CDOT spokesperson, denied that the Austin community is being neglected.
Steele said the city is in the peak of the pothole season, and it takes longer to get to residential streets.
The department prioritizes pothole patching to major streets with high traffic volumes. Since Dec. 1, the city has filled over 320,000 potholes and patch nearly 5,000 potholes daily.
Potholes are filled based on the number of complaints received by the city’s 311 center. Steele noted that for the last two months, 311 only received one pothole complaint from that block. Ald. Sharon Denise Dixon’s office also indicated that they received no complaints from that block about potholes.
However, Vondrasek said comments like that serve to distract from the problem and to discredit the organization.
“We took a look at some of the stuff we did, and it looks pretty much the same as some of the stuff (the city) put in,” he said. “It’s just all foolishness.”
Monique T. Moore, a member of SACCC, hoped that that the city would have done more to repair the community’s potholes. But she added she was glad that being a “nuisance” got the mayor’s attention.
“It didn’t work to the extreme that I would have liked it to, but you tell the truth and you shame the devil,” Moore said. “It’s a small victory, but it is a victory still.”
Woody Taylor, of the 1200 Block of Monitor, also helped fill the potholes. The 30-year Austin resident said his block has similar problems. He contends dodging potholes is just as dangerous as texting while driving.
“(The city) seemed to be concerned about giving people citations for driving while talking on cell phones and text messaging, because they say that causes a distraction for the traffic,” Taylor said. “But they don’t realize that dodging these potholes is just as distracting.”