© 2019 Thad Williamson. Authorized and Paid For By Thad Williamson For Richmond City Council.

  • Thad Williamson

Jul 26: Fifty Fixes for the 5th #2: Pave the Potholes!

We asked, and residents of the 5th District answered!

A few weeks ago we issued a call for community feedback on our website on community issues in the 5th District. When we’re out canvassing, we always ask folks “so what’s on your mind?

We hear a lot about schools, about economic opportunity, and about big policy questions. We also hear about trees, speeding cars, garbage collection, sidewalks, curb cuts and bus routes. In time, our “Fifty Fixes for the Fifth” series will address each of those important concerns.

But this week we have to focus on the most frequent neighborhood complaint our team hears when we knock doors and talk to 5th District residents: potholes in our roads. “I’ve had all four tires knocked out of alignment just by driving around here,” one voter told us. Others talk of costly trips to the repair shop after hitting a pothole to repair damaged tires or worse.

Potholes are a safety issue, an economic issue, an equity issue, and a sustainability issue.

Safety: hitting potholes can damage cars and dodging potholes can cause accidents.

Economic: we need our key commercial districts like Carytown—districts that bring so much money to city coffers in the form of sales taxes and meals taxes—to be safe, attractive, and pothole-free. Yet a recent service request to RVA 311 reads “There has been a massive pothole at the end of the alley between Boulevard and Colonial….This pothole appears every year.”  Another service request filed on July 2nd reported eight potholes on the block of S. Sheppard Street adjacent to Cary.

Equity:  hitting a pothole is costly for everyone, but can be devastating for folks who can’t easily afford a car repair. For individuals and families striving to get ahead, an unlucky bump in the road can become a disruptive life event. That’s not fair, and is contrary to our aim of building a thriving city.

Sustainability: we need to continue progress towards becoming a multi-modal center. Roads in poor condition endanger cyclists. Improving cyclist and pedestrian safety are major concerns involving many inter-related issues, but road conditions are part of the picture.

The City administration reports that in the 5th District, 70.9% of our streets are “poor” or “fair,” significantly worse than the citywide average of 65%.

Incredibly, all sixteen blocks of Cary Street between Thompson and Meadow are ranked as “poor” or worse. On the Southside, while a few blocks of Midlothian and Semmes are classified as “satisfactory” or” good” the vast majority of connecting streets are “fair,” “poor,” or worse.

So what is to be done?

The best approach—the “fix”-- is to improve the condition of our roads so that potholes become less common.

Importantly, in the FY 2020 adopted budget $15 million in new capital funding was appropriated for street maintenance. The goal is to re-pave roads to make potholes less common. This major investment is a chance to make tangible progress, and if elected I will be asking questions and advocating aggressively from day one to be sure the 5th District is getting its fair share of this spending, this year.  

We also need to make sure RVA 311 as well as DPW is fully staffed, year-round. In fiscal 2018, the administration reported that nearly half—49%--of potholes requests are more than three weeks old. That number must come down significantly, and soon. (Happily, the July 2nd request to fill the eight potholes on S. Sheppard Street led to work being completed by July 23rd.)

As Council member I will advocate for investing in our infrastructure--and specifically our 5th District infrastructure—in a strategic and equitable fashion. It’s crazy from any perspective that one of the signature, revenue-generating districts of the City (Carytown) has roads in such poor shape.  All our neighborhoods need to have roads in better condition.

That means maintaining a long-term commitment to prioritizing infrastructure at budget time, and paying close attention to ground-level implementation. (Paving work needs to be done with high-quality materials to have the most lasting impact.)  City Council took helpful action this week by passing an ordinance requiring the Department of Public Works to perform an annual assessment of the city’s roads each year, so we can track progress over time.  

Richmond’s infrastructure needs are massive and, as with so many issues, it will take sustained, focus commitment to bring about the change we need. I am prepared to bring that focused commitment to City Council, on behalf of the 5th District and all of Richmond.