Action News finds questionable street repairs by the City of Philadelphia

Action News checked 100 ditches across the city. We found roughly 30% were completed improperly.

ByChad Pradelli and Cheryl Mettendorf WPVI logo
Tuesday, January 24, 2023
Investigation into ditch repairs around Philadelphia
Action News checked 100 ditches across the city. We found roughly 30% were completed improperly.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- If you've driven the streets of Philadelphia, you know it can be a bumpy ride.

Much of it is due to construction. But who is overseeing that road ditches are repaired correctly?

The Action News Investigative Team put the city to the test to see if it was performing road work according to its records.

Mike Zahradnick said a road ditch on the 1300 hundred block of South 31st Street in Grays Ferry damaged his Jeep. It happened because it was filled with broken wood. The debris left him with a punctured flat tire.

"It was not filled in properly and nobody stays on top of it," he said.

Road ditches can be created a number of ways but often it's from a plumber or utility crew performing new sewer and water line connections in the street.

City Streets Department Supervisor Steven Lorenze said plumbers are supposed to fill the ditches with dirt and make a temporary patch with asphalt and then submit a backfill card to his department to finish.

"We will dig out the backfill, pour 8-10- inches of concrete, let it cure and then come back and put about 2 to 2-1/2 inches of asphalt to bring it up to grade," he said.

Lorenze said the goal is to finish that process in 45 days. The department restores roughly 7,500 ditches a year.

The investigative team requested city records for backfill cards. We then traveled the streets of Philadelphia to double-check the Streets Department's work. We wanted to see that completed ditch repairs were done correctly.

Our team checked 100 ditches across the city including Fishtown, Kensington, Point Breeze, South Philadelphia and Grays Ferry. We found roughly 30% were completed improperly including the ditch at 1320 S. 31st where Zahradnick got that flat.

"I have to get a whole new tire," he said. "It's too close to the sidewall and the piece of wood was so big."

Ditch after ditch we found problems. We came across road ditches with weeds growing out of them, others with clear temporary patches, and a slew of others three to four inches above or below grade.

We took our findings to the Lorenze.

"With regards to dirt," he said, "dirt with grass growing out of it, that's just not acceptable."

Duncan Larkin lives on the 1100 block of Earle Street in Fishtown. He said he has battling to get his street fixed for over a year. The ditches on his block have him and his neighbors fed up.

"It looks like something you'd see on the surface of the moon," he said. "I mean they are craters. My first fear is somebody's gonna get hurt."

Larkin and his neighbors went to Councilman Mark Squilla's office for help but it hasn't been enough. So he turned to Action News.

"This city is not doing much of anything. Then a couple months ago, they came and dropped a giant pile of dirt and just left it and cars just started driving over the pile until the pile disappeared," he said.

The city told us it removed the wood and did a temporary fix on South 31st Street and scheduled a final restoration.

The Streets Department also said it fixed several ditches on Earle Street earlier this summer, but four utility ditches remain unfinished. The Streets Department is working with the utility and plans to resurface the entire road in 2023.

If you feel like an improperly surfaced road caused your vehicle damage, you can file a claim with the City's Risk Management Office.

Action News found the city Streets Department paid out more than $25,000 for 19 claims over the past five years.