Ralph Jackson, left, and Robert Caudillo fill potholes on Alameda Street… (Christina House, For The…)
The repair crew spotted its target on Alameda Street downtown a little after 9 a.m. Sunday — two potholes about 3 inches deep.
They cleaned a roughly 9-foot-by-3-foot rectangle around the offending divots, applied a special glue, dropped asphalt from the back of their truck, raked it over and used a vibrating plate to pack it down. Another layer of glue, and they were done.
Two down, and a seemingly endless number to go in the war against asphalt atrophy.
City officials launched Operation Pothole over the weekend in hopes of repairing 20,000 of the potholes that can blow out a tire or spill your coffee.
The crew on Alameda Street was among an estimated 150 employees and 75 trucks that fanned out to neighborhoods across the city Saturday and Sunday, according to officials with the Board of Public Works.
Board Commissioner Andrea Alarcón said Operation Pothole has been held at least once a year in recent years but pointed out that this weekend's endeavor was the largest to date.
Alarcón said that besides the direct benefits of an intense amount of repairs in a short period of time, the operation also reminds residents that they should call 311 to report potholes or other needed street repairs.
Even if crews are unable to repair all of the reported holes, the calls help the agency define the scope of the problem, said John Sapone, acting division manager of the Street Maintenance Division at the Bureau of Street Services.
City officials said it is "virtually impossible to predict or count the number of existing potholes at any given time" but said about 250,000 are repaired annually. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa issued a statement last week saying that money for 300,000 repairs was included in the city budget for next year.
"Through Operation Pothole this weekend, we are doing our part for Angelenos to save time on their daily commutes and money on potential auto repairs," Villaraigosa said.
"Decades of historical underfunding created a street system that aged without the proper maintenance," Nazario Sauceda, interim director of the Bureau of Street Services, said in a statement. "Under Mayor Villaraigosa, the bureau's Pavement Preservation Program has received an unprecedented level of funding," he said.
Nevertheless, Sapone said, immaculate maintenance of the city's streets would require far more staffing and funding.
He said the city was also studying and testingnew oils and additives to help make the asphalt less brittle.
"It's kind of like it's a living, breathing animal," Sapone said of the asphalt, noting that repairs are most needed after intense rainfalls.
"That's the enemy, because it penetrates into the road bed," Sapone said of the rain, which according to the National Weather Service has been higher in almost every measured section of Southern California from July 1, 2010, to June 4, 2011, than over the same period a year before.
He said a former city official once coined the phrase "potholes are like diamonds; they're forever." Which led Sapone to ponder: "How do you stop that forever?"