We did a ridealong with Mayor Quinton Lucas while he helped fill potholes
Photography by Rebecca Norden and Caleb Condit
Chances are you’re familiar with the devastatingly expensive sound your car makes when you accidentally fly over a pothole. If you’ve been in Kansas City very long, you’ve probably become a pro at dodging the craters that plague our streets.
Potholes aren’t a new problem. Even just since the start of this year, nearly three thousand potholes have been reported to 311, the city’s request line. But new mayor Quinton Lucas wants to change all that. In his first State of the City address, he announced the creation of a new position: pothole czar.
A few weeks ago, we tagged along with Lucas as he joined a crew of pothole repair professionals. We started at a repair site on the streets of Waldo (where, you might remember, a man threw a birthday party for a three-month-old pothole in his neighborhood).
We were met with more potholes at every corner we turned. According to a citizen satisfaction survey, potholes are the number one complaint from Kansas City residents, Lucas says. Missouri is also listed as the worst state in the country for potholes in a study from Autowise.
Lucas is throwing money at the problem, increasing the street resurfacing budget to seventeen million—seventy percent above where it was two years ago.
The city declared a state of emergency for pothole repair in March, allowing Public Works crews to work overtime to patch over a thousand of them the first weekend. Lucas says his pothole czar will coordinate efforts between departments and be responsible for prioritizing projects. The idea has been met with some resistance.
Councilwoman Heather Hall attacked the new role, and the Kansas City Star said the czar “sounds more like a gimmick than a real solution.”
However, Lucas says the role could provide the public a specific person to talk to while Public Works focuses on other projects like bridges and public transit.
“I want to be able to, as mayor, tell somebody: ‘Hey, pothole czar, this needs to be addressed. This needs to be fixed. We’re hearing a lot of complaints from Waldo; what’s the plan?’” Lucas says.
He says the czar isn’t meant to be a new position but rather somebody who might already be a city worker. The problem won’t be fixed immediately, but Lucas is hopeful that the city is able to address the long-term issue.
As Lucas helped fill potholes, he also advocated for increasing wages for Public Works crews, saying their job is taxing. “The state of the roads is something that we’re giving these folks a heck of a lot of work to do,” he says. “We all assume we know how it’s done, but frankly, it’s a lot tougher than I realized.”
Lucas says it’s likely chronic underfunding of the street preservation program that has caused roadways to deteriorate. “I think it’s fair to say that in Kansas City, we haven’t done enough of that lately.”
DID YOU KNOW?
To repair a pothole, the hole is first swept and cleared of debris. Then a process called “tacking” preps the pothole for repair before clumpy wet asphalt is shoveled in. Crews rake the asphalt over the hole to create a patch then use a roller to compact and smooth the asphalt.