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Fixing Tampa’s roads is top priority for Mayor Castor, but city lags, report says

Lax workplace safety, inefficiencies and funding constraints mar efforts to maintain city streets, a recent audit found.
 
A vehicle drives on a street with an abundance of cracks near the intersection of North Franklin Street and East Oak Avenue on Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2023, in Tampa.
A vehicle drives on a street with an abundance of cracks near the intersection of North Franklin Street and East Oak Avenue on Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2023, in Tampa. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
Published Nov. 23, 2023|Updated Nov. 24, 2023

TAMPA — On the campaign trail and throughout her tenure as mayor of Florida’s third-largest city, Jane Castor has said that among her top priorities is fixing Tampa’s pot-hole ravaged roads and adding sidewalks.

Yet the division responsible for maintaining city roads and turning those talking points into a reality struggles with safety concerns and inefficiencies, according to records of a recent internal audit reviewed by the Tampa Bay Times.

The audit, completed earlier this month, found some workplace safety rules are inconsistently followed, performance metrics are not always accurately reported and delays in paving and resurfacing have led to noncompliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The division — called Pavement Management — has been operating without a formal policy and procedures manual, as required by city ordinance. This has led to “confusion, mistakes and inefficiencies in training new employees,” according to the audit.

Vik Bhide, director of the Mobility Department, which includes the division, requested the audit because he is “expanding, improving, and focusing more on pavement management,” city communications director Adam Smith told the Times in an email.

“Internal audits are routinely done to identify areas needing improvement and standards that might need updating,” Smith wrote.

In response to audit findings, division management officials pledged “an exhaustive effort” to develop quality assurance, performance monitoring, maintenance strategies and records management, according to the audit, which requires adopting a formal operating policy no later than the end of next March.

Seven vehicles and pieces of equipment deemed beyond repair were taken out of service and not replaced during the audit’s 30-month observation period, leading to operational inefficiencies.
Seven vehicles and pieces of equipment deemed beyond repair were taken out of service and not replaced during the audit’s 30-month observation period, leading to operational inefficiencies. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]

Policies and procedures will coincide with the Mobility Department’s recently unveiled Tampa MOVES, a 30-year plan outlining $2 billion worth of transportation projects needed to improve congestion, safety and resilience in the city.

Auditors’ review of inspections reports and workplace safety surveys records found that safety rules for vehicles and heavy equipment use haven’t been strictly followed or enforced. Safety rules for material handling, traffic maintenance and personal protective equipment are inconsistently followed, the audit found. Multiple trucks had expired accident kits.

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Division management officials said they would schedule and record an internal training course with all supervisors to reinforce safety rules. New accident kits were recently distributed to the entire division, according to the audit.

In September 2021, Mayor Castor unveiled a hotline and online portal for residents to flag potholes and other street problems, and have repairs done within 72 hours.

In the program’s first year, the city announced the FIX IT FAST team repaired more than 4,300 potholes with an average response time of 46 hours and repaired 200 critical signs on average in under an hour and a half each.

But auditors were unable to verify metrics, such as average repair times, due to incomplete records. In response, management officials agreed to devise a new workflow by year’s end.

Tampa resident Arizona Jenkins has dedicated decades to improving and expanding the city's transportation networks.
Tampa resident Arizona Jenkins has dedicated decades to improving and expanding the city's transportation networks. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Seven vehicles and pieces of equipment deemed beyond repair were taken out of service and not replaced during the audit’s 30-month observation period, leading to operational inefficiencies. Management pointed to an insufficient budget for replacements.

Budgetary constraints limited the division’s ability to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and upgrade curb ramps in a timely manner. The decades-old, landmark legislation requires municipalities to upgrade facilities such as curb ramps that do not meet federal design requirements when streets are altered through resurfacing.

More than 25 million Americans have a travel-limiting disability, and 3.6 million did not leave their homes for that reason in 2018, according to data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. In Hillsborough, 14.8% of residents are over age 65, per 2020 U.S. Census data. Eight percent of county residents under 65 have a disability.

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“Inadequate curb ramps can pose a safety risk for all pedestrians, not just those with disabilities,” the audit said. “Uneven or poorly designed curb ramps can lead to tripping hazards and accidents, potentially increasing the city’s liability for injuries and accidents.”

In response, the department management told auditors it is working toward a plan to correct as part of a broader effort to address accessibility deficiencies across Tampa’s transportation system.