Public works officials grilled over delayed pothole repairs

NOW: Public works officials grilled over delayed pothole repairs

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Milwaukee public works officials said Wednesday a combination of bad weather and worker shortages were largely to blame for ongoing delays in repairing potholes across the city.

Alderman on the Milwaukee Common Council's public works committee questioned the Department of Public Works' leadership about potholes for about an hour in a hearing that occasionally got testy.

"We recognize this is a rough time of year, but it is also a rough year for potholes," City Engineer Kevin Muhs told committee members.

Public works officials went through a presentation that outlined the number of pothole repair requests the city has received this month, compared with recent years. The past March, the city received more than 3,000 requests; the six-year average for March is about 2,000.


It was a similar story for April, during which about 2,500 requests have come in so far. The six-year average for the month is fewer than 2,000. Committee Chair Bob Bauman remained skeptical.

"I don't wanna hear excuses anymore," he said. "I just wanna hear the plan."

Public works officials said a shortage of workers also contributed to delays this year. The goal for DPW is to close individual service requests within three days. So far this year, the average repair time has been six days.

"You're gonna see stuff here you're not gonna like, I'm gonna tell you," Public Works Commissioner Jerrel Kruschke said. "Because some of the staffing shortages are affecting our operations."

The DPW presentation called attention to staffing numbers compared to recent years. Currently, the department has a budget for 85 field workers to repair streets. This spring has seen the most pothole requests since 2019; during that year, DPW had 100 field workers.

Milwaukee Public Works officials, including Commissioner Jerrel Kruschke (center) and City Engineer Kevin Muhs (right), answer questions from aldermen Wednesday at City Hall. Dave Wertheimer

Even with a budget for 85 workers, DPW reported having only 67 staffers filling potholes. Muhs said it was because the department can't find workers to remain the 18 open positions, citing wages that he estimated with about $3 an hour less than comparable jobs in the private sector and surrounding suburbs.

"Essentially, the city's fiscal resources combined with a general labor shortage, which is definitely impacting the city, is really limiting our ability to get out there," Muhs said.

Public works officials said, despite the worker shortages, overall efficiency hadn't taken a hit. The department reported fixing 69 potholes per worker, the highest rate since 2019.

Muhs added another hurdle for the department was deferred maintenance on city streets. He said roads that should've already been repaired by now were now more susceptible to deep potholes during an especially rough freeze-and-thaw cycle.

Questioning DPW's process

Aldermen also took issue with communication from the department, as well as whether the DPW had a flawed process when it came to handling reports of rocky stretches of city streets.

While DPW has a target repair time of three days for individual pothole reports, if there's a report of numerous potholes over a stretch of more than three blocks, the department has a target repair time of 10-15 days for that stretch.

Ald. JoCasta Zamarripa questioned whether the department should have been more responsive to an April 10 note she sent regarding potholes all over W. National Ave. between 9th St. and the city limit at 38th. St. 

"We got was a disappointing -- what I felt was very disappointing -- communication from DPW staff," Zamarripa said. "That, because we reported a stretch of multiple potholes, there would be a delay."

Muhs apologized for the department not responding sooner but noted the repairs that occurred on the 24th were within the DPW's current window for repairing extended stretches of streets.

On Wednesday, a CBS 58 crew noted there were freshly repaired potholes all along that stretch of W. National Ave. Muhs said a shift to prioritize pothole-ridden main streets would mean longer wait times for reports of single potholes on side streets.

"We're open to [making that change] at the department," Muhs said. "If that's where we're directed."

Residents dealing with potholes in their neighborhood can report them online or call them in at 414-286-CITY.

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