Take a ride with Tucson's pothole patrol

Photo: Video by kgun9.com

Take a ride with Tucson's pothole patrol

CREATED Nov. 2, 2012

Reporter: Craig Smith

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - To ride in smooth comfort down most Tucson streets these days you need one of two things: a really cushy car or a butt of steel.
Our roads are such a mess that you probably think it wouldn't take a rocket scientist to figure out which ones need repair.
But maybe you do, or at least a van load of rolling technology.

As a cabdriver Khaleed Fashaikad has spent a lot of years and a lot of miles bouncing down Tucson streets and a lot of time sending his cab to the shop.

He says, "They gonna question, why should we fix the shocks or the struts all this time, what road you been on?"
His vote for the roughest road he drives is part of Country Club near Valencia.  It is a lumpy, bumpy, jolting, revolting experience but when we asked for your vote on Facebook, your list of mean streets was all over the map.
Alessandra votes for 22nd and Park. She says she cracked two rims there.
Jessica says at Pima & Columbus it feels like your axle will split in half. 
Motorcycle rider T.J. says says a pothole on 22nd near the Nissan dealer nearly killed him. "It's like two feet deep," he says.  
He's not the only one busted up about 22nd Street. That street's on the list for Erica, Frank, Juan and Lisa.
But would it surprise you to know the reading on your rough road butt-o-meter isn't enough to convince the feds to cough up its share of road cash?
That's where the city's ARAN van rolls in.

TDOT engineer Todd Kessler says, "Underneath on each corner of the vehicle is an ultrasonic sensor."
The sound waves measure the slope of the road. 

Kessler looks at a huge attachment on the front bumper and says, "This cattle prod looking thing on the front is actually a three point laser system.  It's measuring what's called International Roughness Index, or IRI."
Cameras look at the road, while GPS records exactly where everything is.

KGUN9 reporter Craig Smith asked Kessler: "What's the value of gathering all this technical data as opposed to say, maybe a DOT supervisor riding down that road and going, yup, that's rough, we've had customer complaints, we're gonna look at it?"
Kessler says engineers need more precision to keep track of 400 miles of big roads and 14 hundred miles of small ones. 

"It allows us to put a number to each roadway and show more of a scientific number on why and what condition is this road as compared to another area, rather than just saying, well that road's bad and that road's bad, we're able to compare the numbers of the roads."
Because so many of you complained about 22nd, we asked Kessler to check it out.
How the road feels to the driver's posterior is still one measure of displeasure.  As the van rolls along Kessler types in numbers from one to 10.  "Ten" means smooth as silk.  A "1" is bad even for a dirt road.
But the van's computers use a different scale.

Kessler says, "This is your roughness data that the lasers are measuring on the front.  The higher the number, the rougher the roadway.  So in this case, we're above the 400.  Anything greater than 170 from federal Highway Administration standards is really unacceptable."

So…lets back up here.  Turns out, Allesandra, TJ, Erica, Frank, Juan and Lisa knew what they were talking about.  Boy, did they.  The stretch of 22nd the ARAN van examined is almost two and half times worse than what the Feds want to see.
Kessler rates it as too far gone to repair.  Workers will need to strip it to bare dirt and lay down all new pavement.
The city's planning to fix up 22nd eventually if voters approve bonds to pay for a city wide paving program.  Even then, depending on the section, the work is still two to six years down the road.
For now the city is patching and paving as money allows, while the rest of us keep bouncing down the so-called road, relying in lo-tech fashion on just our butts, and maybe some jarred teeth to tell us something's not right.