Lauraville hole languishes because of storm drain repair backlog

The problem: A temporarily patched hole in Lauraville grows larger as time passes.

The back story: After at least six calls to 311 within five months about a hole that opened near a storm drain in the 2600 block of Goodwood Road, Anna L. Brown was fed up.

A small gap appeared between the concrete alley and the road in the spring, and Brown saw it every day as she drove down the residential street leading out of her neighborhood.

She called 311, and the operator gave her a confirmation number. She called again to get a status update and was told that the city's Department of Public Works would make repairs, and then asphalt would be laid.

Eventually, steel plates covered the growing hole, accessorized with some asphalt patches and piles of wooden boards.

Brown called several more times in July, was given more numbers and at one point was told the request had been closed. Finally, she contacted Watchdog and a staffer in her councilman's office.

"The 'temporary fix' seems to be considered the permanent solution by those charged with responsibility for repair," Brown wrote in her e-mail.

Dave Tischner, who can see the hole from his house, said it was hard to leave the windows open during the summer heat because of the raw sewage smell as well as the "boom-boom-boom" noise from vehicles passing over the plates. "All you hear is the metal," he said.

Tischner, who said he also called 311 several times, said operators recommended he contact his councilman's office.

Kurt Kocher, a spokesman for the Department of Public Works, said the problem stemmed from two issues: a backlog of work and communication lapses.

Initially there was a sewer problem at that location that was repaired within a week in May, he said. When they were done, the sewer crews left the wooden boards, and they shouldn't have, Kocher said. They were removed Thursday, he said.

However, before the sewer crews finished, they noticed a broken storm drain connection and notified storm drain crews.

And that's why the plates appeared to languish. There is a backlog of storm drain repairs because workers usually can complete only one repair per day. Of 160 open cases, DPW referred 25 jobs to contractors within the past month to reduce the wait, he said.

Kocher said DPW officials are reviewing the process to make storm drain repair crews more efficient, including training more staff in additional skills and using heavy-grade plywood inserts that can be bolted into place instead of steel plates that have to be delivered on a special truck.

Neighbors' confusion could have been mitigated if staff had updated 311 about the delay, the spokesman said. It also would have helped if workers had distributed communication cards and door hangers to nearby residents with information about the nature of the work and the estimated completion time, Kocher said.

But the good news for Goodwood Road is that crews were scheduled to begin their repairs Friday afternoon and were expected to be completed by midweek.

Who can fix this: James Patrick, general superintendent, Baltimore Department of Public Works. 410-396-3061. City residents should call 311 to report problems.

— Liz F. Kay

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