City Council Asks for Quicker Fix for Sinkholes

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The upside to this year’s mild winter in New York City is that fewer potholes need to be fixed. But the downside is that it’s still taking too long to fix other problems, according to some City Council members.  

Transportation Committee Chair James Vacca said that the current 30-day window to fix sinkholes and cave-ins is unacceptable and puts motorists, pedestrians and cyclists in danger. “I’ve witnessed where it’s gone on for weeks,” Vacca said.

At a hearing on the condition of the city’s streets and roads, City Council members said that squabbling between the Department of Transportation and the Department of Environmental Protection shouldn’t prolong the time it takes to repair sinkholes and other dangerous road defects.

DOT officials stated that typically, sinkholes cannot be repaired immediately because inspectors must first ascertain whether an underlying environmental or infrastructure problem created the damage. If the hole was due to an underlying infrastructure problem because of water main or sewer lines, then the DEP must step in to oversee the repairs.

While disputes between the agencies do occur, Lori Ardito, first deputy commissioner of transportation, said that her agency has improved the process of inspecting and reporting sinkholes, which includes referring information to the city’s DEP when the damage is classified as the DEP’s responsibility for repair.

Ardito estimated that about 90 percent of sinkholes in the city are deemed the responsibility of the DEP.

A DEP official echoed DOT testimony, saying the agency works closely with DOT to ensure potholes and sinkholes are referred immediately to the appropriate agency so local impacts are kept to a minimum.

Still, Vacca and other City Council members pointed out that the guidelines used by the DOT to determine which agency is responsible are unclear.

 “I want to know, is there something in writing that’s hard and definitive about who does what, when?” Vacca asked.

According to the DOT, the average response time to fix a pothole is four days, and this fiscal year more than 175,000 potholes have been fixed thus far.

Potholes and sinkholes were among the topics discussed as council members pressed the DOT to explain how the agency rates city streets and flags those eligible for resurfacing and repair.

According to the DOT’s most recent assessment, 27.2 percent of city streets are rated as “fair,” which makes them eligible for repaving projects.