Potholes--Shake, Rattle, Report Them

Potholes--Shake, Rattle, Report Them

By Karen Klinger

To many Cambridge residents, they are the first signs of spring.

No, not robins or crocuses. Potholes. Those nasty, gaping holes in the road that can wreck the tires and wheel rims of cars and bicycles (and worse, toss cyclists over the handlebars), cause accidents by forcing drivers to swerve around them and often seem to appear and reappear at this time of year with maddening frequency on the same stretches of the same streets.

Why do they happen and what can you do about them? The city's Department of Public Works has the answers (most of them, anyway) on its website: http://www.cambridgema.gov/theworks.aspx. And the DPW's headline offers some good news: "Pothole Repairs are Underway."

First a little background. The city's pothole primer says these roadway "defects," as it calls them, are often caused by water that manages to seep under the pavement, either through cracks or from the side of the road, making the material under the pavement erode and sink. During winter and early spring, freeze and thaw cycles make the pavement contract and expand and often, crack. Once cracked, the pavement can deteriorate rapidly under the weight of traffic, sometimes making potholes appear overnight.


The city says Cambridge's geographical location near the coast of the Atlantic Ocean tends to exacerbate the cycles of freezing and thawing, with rain and snow causing the increase in the occurrence of potholes. In winter, making permanent pothole repairs is "difficult and expensive," so the DPW does temporary fixes designed to "maintain safety and minimize damage to vehicles." With the coming of spring (or nearly so, right now) Cantabrigians are likely to spot crews around the city making permanent repairs using hot asphalt.

On a potholes walking tour of part of North Cambridge, this writer found some on Cogswell Avenue near Porter Square (a street that appears to have an unending pothole problem) and a number of them in the Dudley Street neighborhood between Ridnge Avenue and Harvey Street and adjacent to Russell Field.

To report a pothole and request a repair on a street (or a sidewalk) the city says residents can call 617-349-4854 or e-mail: theworks@cambridgema.gov. Or use the DPW's online reporting form: http://www.cambridgema.gov/theworks/ourservices/administration/customers.... The department says workers generally check service requests each business day and initial inspections are scheduled within two business days, weather and other circumstances permitting.


People who think there is an "urgent safety concern" that needs immediate attention are asked to call a 24-hour emergency hotline at 617-349-4860 and speak to a staff member. Those who have lodged a request for a pothole repair and have not received any feedback after more than a week can follow up by calling the DPW's Streets and Sidewalks Maintenance Division directly at 617-340-4851.

With the coming of spring, of course, city crews are not only out doing pothole repairs but construction work on roads and sidewalks as well. To find out what they are doing--or the status of a planned project--the department invites residents to visit the "City Projects" website page: http://www.cambridgema.gov/theworks/ourservices/administration/customers.... On that site it is possible to find a project using a street name, project category or type or a keyword. There are also links to various information including the city's five-year street and sidewalk plan.

The "Five Year Plan," as it is known (http://www.cambridgema.gov/theworks/ourservices/engineering/aboutenginee...) states that among its goals are the "comprehensive inspection/repair and upgrading of city utilities, as well as public utilities" and the reconstruction of "streets and sidewalks in a prioritized fashion based on need."