City workers perfect method of pothole filling Shovel, rake, tamp approach fixes craters 'fast to last'


One minute, 45 seconds. Flat.

That's how long it took Donnell Lay and Brian Canary to repair a pothole on Madison Street last week. If there is a science to filling a pothole in a pothole-ravaged city, city workers Mr. Lay and Mr. Canary have perfected a record-time procedure.

And it's as simple as shovel, rake, tamp.

"We get them done pretty fast, and we get them done right and to last," said Mr. Lay, a burly man with calloused hands, blackened shoes, and eyes that can spot even the smallest of potholes from 30 yards away. "We don't miss a hole."

They are part of 15 three-person pothole repair crews that work for the city's Bureau of Transportation. Daily, the crews slowly cruise the streets in search of the ever-present pothole.

Once spotted -- even if found in heavy traffic and it means causing a traffic jam -- the pothole is quickly eradicated.

For instance, the series of six little axle rattlers that snaked near the intersection of Macon Street and Eastern Avenue in East Baltimore didn't stand a chance.

While Mr. Lay shoveled a steaming mound of Perma-patch from the truck and raked it evenly over the hole, Mr. Canary pounded -- or tamped -- it solidly into place and swept away any remnants.

Six potholes spotted and repaired in less than 25 minutes. Close, but no record.

"I'm not sure how long each one took, but we did over 200 potholes one day," Mr. Lay said. "And I'm not talking about doing something that's going to come out and mean that we'll have to come back and fix it again. We fixed 200 the right way."

The city's method of filling potholes is partly driven by complaints from residents who have potholes in their neighborhood. But once that one particular hole is repaired, the crew travels the street to seek and repair potholes.

For example, if a pothole complaint is called for a specific section of Charles Street, the repair crew rides the entire block of Charles Street looking for holes, according to Vanessa C. Pyatt, a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Works.

The city receives 900 to 1,100 pothole complaints daily. From Jan. 1 to Feb. 5, the city repaired more than 20,000 potholes, Ms. Pyatt said.

The city is divided into four sectors -- north, south, east and west -- and crews daily ride each sector searching for nothing but potholes, said Larry White, superintendent of highway maintenance. A smaller number of crews also work in the warm months to fill potholes.

A woman who lives near Fort McHenry asked Mr. Canary's crew to fill a rather small "pothole." Mr. Canary scoffed at the suggestion, but filled it anyway.

"It was the size of a dime," he said. "It wasn't a pothole or even close. The [chemical] wouldn't even stick to it, but she wouldn't understand and it would be just as hard and take just as long to explain it to her than to go ahead and fill it."

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