PHOTO: Parking lots ‘K’ and ‘I’ on North Campus are deteriorating. Photo by Rob Sifford for The Current 2014 ©
By Daniel C. Hodges, Staff Writer for The Current
The University of Missouri–St. Louis’ pothole-ridden parking lots are slated for repair and repaving soon, but must contend for priority with winter storm cleanup and a backlog of building maintenance and repair. The parking lot for the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center and Lot I are particularly strewn with potholes.
UMSL’s Grounds Supervisor Norm Dalton said that it is Ground Maintenance’s responsibility to, “fix minor potholes in all roadways.” He stated that Grounds Maintenance tends to potholes as quickly as possible once they are notified of the issue. In regards to a possible timetable for fixing all potholes, Dalton said that Grounds Maintenance is working immediately to make the parking lots and roadways safe, but at this time there is no timetable for when they will be completed.
Referencing Lot I specifically, Dalton explained that the asphalt has degraded too much for Grounds Maintenance to continue patching it and has met with a contractor on October 17 to receive a bid on that major renovation. “We have patched this area many times in the past but when asphalt has broken up to this point, patching just won’t work.” Dalton said the meeting with the contractor “went great” and they should receive the bid soon; the contractor is aware of the imminent need for the work to be done.
The funds to repair potholes come from the Grounds Maintenance budget. Dalton estimates the university spends $8,000–$10,000 annually on just the material to repair the potholes and that is not including the cost of labor.
With the potential for damage to both students’ and faculties’ cars due to the potholes, Dalton said, that while he has received reports in the past of vehicles being damaged by potholes, he has received no such complaints this semester. As for whose responsibility it would be to repair vehicle damage, Dalton said it is the same as the Missouri Department of Transportation’s (MODOT) policy: “It is the vehicle owner’s responsibility.” However, according to MODOT, it is more complicated than that. MODOT told KOMU that if the state were aware of a pothole for “a reasonable amount of time” and hasn’t repaired it, MODOT will generally pay the claim; however, “a reasonable amount of time could vary depending on each situation.”
A practicing St. Louis region attorney stated that UMSL’s policy was legitimate. “Since they [UMSL] are an entity of the state, sovereign immunity would likely come in to play and absent some sort of provision waiving sovereign immunity for street repairs; the car owner is out of luck.”
With winter approaching, so comes the potential for new potholes. Dalton says that after snow storms, potholes can literally form overnight due to the freezing and thawing process. As for repairing those potholes, clearing snow and ice is prioritized before pothole repair commences. Further complicating matters, a pothole must be at least two inches deep for a patch to hold; patching anything shallower will not even last a few days.
The Grounds Maintenance crew consists of five groundskeepers, one horticulturalist and two part-time personnel. There are no dedicated personnel for repairing potholes; instead, “All personnel participate in pothole repairs.” said Dalton.
As for complete repaving of the university’s lots, there is no timetable or budget at this time for such projects. Parking lot and roadway repaving must jockey for funding with building maintenance and repairs. Currently Grounds Maintenance has a backlog of maintenance and repair projects that all compete for attention.