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So far this year, there have been 997 reports of potholes. That compares to 667 reports for the same time period last year. (PHOTO: Colton Dunham)

Math makes pothole problem seem totally overwhelming

It seems like every year I get aggravated enough to complain and moan about what driving over potholes in Milwaukee does to my car, and this year is no exception.

But this year, instead of saying it's like a mogul skiing track, I've got statistics.

The City of Milwaukee has a great website where you can report a pothole that you see.

So far this year, there have been 997 reports of potholes. That compares to 667 reports for the same time period last year, according to Sandy Rusch Walton, the communications manager for the Department of Public Works.

"It normally takes about three days from when we get the report to fix the pothole," Rusch Walton said. She is a woman of great good humor and when I asked her what percentage of potholes actually are reported, she responded with a hearty laugh.

"I wouldn't even hazard a guess," she said.

Well, I am nothing if not a mathematician. So I figured a little number test was in order.

I live on Humboldt Boulevard. The stretch of Humboldt from North Avenue on the south to Capitol Drive on the north is a heavily traveled road.

There are 15 blocks in that stretch. That's probably about a mile.

I took my trusty vehicle out and drove both the east and west sides of the street and counted potholes. I was charitable. I did not count potholes in the parking lane. I only did the driving lane. And I only counted things that made either my car or my teeth shatter.

If it was just a crack in the road I didn't count it. Just things that shook.

On the west side of the street I counted 123 potholes. On the east side, there were 148. that's a total of 271 potholes in need of work. I don't know how many of them have been reported but I don't notice as lot of tarred spots in the road.

Now, Milwaukee has 1,450.5 miles of streets in the city so we can do a little extrapolating. I don't know if extrapolating is the right word, but if it's not, I don't know what the right one is.

So, let's extrapolate.

I am going to figure that Humboldt to Capitol is just over one mile. For the sake of extrapolating, I am going to call it one mile.

Then, because Humboldt gets a lot more traffic than many other streets, I am going to cut the number of potholes by 50 percent. Just for the sake of extrapolation.

So that means in that one mile of Humboldt there are 135 potholes in that one mile. I'm doing some rounding off here, for the sake of extrapolation.

So now let's do some multiplying. 1,450.5 miles of streets with 135 potholes per mile.

That gives us a total of 195,817.5 potholes in Milwaukee.

Think about it. To fix a pothole, you need a truck for sure. And you probably need two guys to fix things. One to drive, one to be a spotter. Both probably have certifications to actually fix the pothole.

Rusch Walton told me the crews have a list.

"When they fix one pothole on the list, they will also fix others that are close to it," she said. "Then they move on to the next one on their list. If they see potholes on their way to the next one, they report it and it gets into the system."

Now, let's go back to the very beginning. There have been 997 reports of potholes. What that means is that .00509 percent of the potholes in the city have actually been reported to the department.

We learn a couple of things from all of this high level quantum math.

One is that the Department of Public Works deserves a massive increase in its budget.

The other thing we learn is how few citizens actually take the time to call in and tell the city about potholes they see. Sure, the number of potholes is shameful.

But not reporting? Now, that's shameful.


Altidude | Feb. 16, 2014 at 1:21 p.m. (report)

With an estimated 135 potholes per mile, I have trouble believing that the DPW needs citizens to try to call them all in. How exactly should I provide the locations of the 692 potholes that I encounter in my daily commute? Or perhaps I should call to say "Potholes are literally everywhere." The city has crews out working every day -- there just aren't enough of them to get ahead of the problem.

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