- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 15, 2000

City roads are in "horrible" shape and heads will roll, District of Columbia Mayor Anthony A. Williams said about the failure of the Department of Public Works to enforce repairs of D.C. streets.

One top official has already left. Gary Burch, chief engineer in charge of pothole repair and utility-cut enforcement, resigned abruptly March 3. Mr. Burch could not be reached for comment, and a spokeswoman did not give a reason for his departure.

"I'm completely disenchanted," Mr. Williams said in a recent interview. "The streets are in horrible shape. There is absolutely nothing being done to get them where they need to be and so you can expect an announcement [of personnel changes] there."

Mr. Williams did not specifically mention DPW Director Vanessa Dale Burns, but said he was personally embarrassed by the lack of progress in improving road conditions.

Unfilled winter potholes have combined with an onslaught of utility work in recent months, leaving drivers bumping, bashing, and crunching along city streets. D.C. road crews are responsible for filling potholes, but utility companies and private construction crews are required by law to pave over the cuts they make. The trouble is, it seems many do a poor job or nothing at all. About 1,600 road projects are still waiting for permanent patches, city officials said.

Public Works is supposed to enforce the regulations, inspect the work of contractors and enforce deadlines with temporary patches being made as soon as a project is done, and permanent patches 45 days after that. But members of the mayor's staff say that isn't happening.

"We are doing a horrible job in terms of inspection," said City Administrator Norman Dong. "It's totally reactive. It's just based on complaint calls that come into the city call center."

That's about to change, mayoral aides say. The number of inspectors will more than double, from eight to 16 or more in coming weeks. Inspectors will have organized routes and be required to keep comprehensive records on particular utilities and specific areas of the city. Utility companies will have to leave a financial deposit that will be returned when the patchwork is done to satisfactory standards.

It can't happen soon enough for residents of Columbia Heights, where one particular block is so bad, the mayor's staff jokes that it ought to be called a shock absorber test zone.

There are more holes in the 2600 block of 15th Street NW than asphalt. Within one block there are 13 large, square holes about 3 inches deep, where the blacktop has been scraped away exposing the concrete roadbed beneath. There is barely any blacktop left at the intersection of 15th and Fuller, just two manhole covers sticking up out of the white cement.

Traffic slows to a crawl as drivers do a slow slalom down the narrow residential street. But none can avoid falling into the holes, some of which are more than 6 feet across. A few daring drivers take the holes full speed, deafening passers-by with the sound of crunching auto parts.

The cuts were made by Washington Gas, which received a construction permit to lay a replacement gas main there a year ago, city records show. But there's no sign of Washington Gas now. After months of work, the utility company packed up weeks ago leaving the holes behind, said a neighborhood resident who identified himself as "Pop" Floyd.

"It's pure negligence," he said, stopping to move a long wooden board with protruding nails out of the road.

Washington Gas spokeswoman Renee DeSandies said the work was completed March 10, but she couldn't say why the holes weren't patched.

"There should be temporary patches on the asphalt there," she said. "I don't know why there aren't."

Miss DeSandies said permanent patches should be in place within 45 days.

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