All about potholes: Kent worker keeps close eye on city streets

Bruce Stephens

Bruce Stephens

Bruce Stephens tries to make sure drivers of cars, trucks and motorcycles in Kent don’t go bump in the night or the day.

Stephens, a city of Kent street maintenance worker, patches potholes. He works as part of a five-member crew that tries to fill potholes soon after the gaps open on the road.

“It’s been a rough year for potholes,” Stephens said during a recent interview at the city-maintenance shop. “It’s like a dog chasing its tail. It’s been a struggle at times.”

With 260 miles of road in the city and 560 lane miles (four lanes on a mile of road equals 4 lane miles), Stephens always has plenty to do. He clears roads of snow, ice and water in the winter, performs street and sidewalk repairs in the summer and fall and helps haul away debris left on city streets.

But filling potholes looms as his primary duty in the spring.

“We run down one street and then hit another street,” Stephens said. “And if we get a call about a pothole across town, we break free and go to fill it.”

Residents, police officers or other city employees call the Public Works Operations division (253-856-5600) to report potholes. Those calls send the street crew away from the regular route of checking for potholes or filling them.

The crew checks for potholes each week day on the main arterial roads, such as Central Avenue, West Valley Highway and South 212th Street. They spread out next to secondary roads, such as 132nd Avenue Southeast, 64th Avenue South and Military Road.

“We try to take keep traffic flowing safely,” Stephens said. “First, it’s the main roads and then the other busy roads and last, but not least, the residential streets.”

Stephens, 52, in his eighth year with the city, enjoys driving a 1-ton truck around town to keep the potholes filled.

The crew typically responds within 45 minutes to a report of a new pothole and always aims to respond within two hours.

“A pothole can be a danger to a wheel or a tire,” Stephens said. “And a pothole can be devastating to a Smart Car or a motorcycle.”

The streets with heavy truck traffic sustain the most potholes. The patched potholes do not last as long on those streets. Heavy rain also causes the troublesome pavement blemishes.

City crews patch the holes with a product called EZ Street.

“We put in a scoop or two from the backhoe and it works very well,” Stephens said. “We can put it in a hole to replace the water and it’s an excellent emergency fix.”

Stephens, who grew up in Snohomish, ran a Texaco shop in Eastern Washington before he moved back to Western Washington to take a Kent city job as a street vegetation worker. After about one year, he joined the street maintenance crew.

“He glows when he drives the dump truck,” said Bill Thomas, city street superintendent, who oversees Stephens. “He takes on work with a professional attitude and takes pride in his work. He also steps into a mentoring role with the new help when he shows how to drive a truck or hook on a trailer.”

Outside of work, Stephens spends time with his wife, Debbie, at their Auburn home. They have one adult son. Stephens loves to go to Seattle Mariner games and attends sprint-car races up in the Skagit Valley.

Because most of his relatives live in Eastern Washington or Idaho, Stephens arranged a family reunion this month for about a dozen relatives at his brother’s home in Meridian, Idaho.

But on the job in Kent, expect to see him plugging the potholes.

“We repair potholes that the winter storms created, and this year it was exceptionally bad,” Stephens saidALL ABOUT POTHOLES.

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