This is How LA’s Potholes Get Fixed

The hot, dirty, and tiring work of making LA's streets safe. Well, safer.

LA Potholes
Chris Cantle/

By 9:30 in the morning, the Koreatown pavement has hit 106 degrees. It's all alligator cracks. Shear lines and potholes—big ones, by LA standards. And by 11:00 am, two fit young men with strong forearms and deeply tanned faces will have fixed all those potholes. They'll have descended upon it from a big city truck in safety yellow and hard hats, coned off their turf, and used specialized tools to shovel asphalt, rake it out, beat it flat, and seal it against wet weather on a summer day when rain seems impossible. They'll repeat the process over and over, and when they finish, a road that needs replacement will have had its life extended. It will be safer for cars and bikes and pedestrians alike. And then they'll break for lunch as the pavement tops 142 degrees before starting all over again, on another beat-to-hell patch of Los Angeles road.

Work for LA's pothole repair crews starts at 6:30 am, when the truck is loaded with three tons of smoldering hot tarmac. Chris Cantle/
The asphalt concrete moves like wet sand. Shoveled and pounded into place, it quickly does the job of a concrete curb patch. Pete Miranda, 36, pours a shovel-load of tarmac into the void left by fifty-something years of wear and tear.Chris Cantle/
Beneath a coating of tar is a purposeful spread of tools. Shovels, rakes, and blades—all in constant use. Chris Cantle/
Jose Moron worked on electrical systems for a contractor before joining up with Street Services. Now, at 24, he's operating a city truck that costs about as much as a supercar. Chris Cantle/
Miranda shovels a load of 220-degree asphalt into another gap in the curb. Hot asphalt concrete—hot AC. That's what the crew calls it.Chris Cantle/
As the crew pushes out the hot AC into cracks and craters in the pavement, it sizzles like pop rocks. Chris Cantle/
For larger patches, a conveyor belt on the truck pours a mound of asphalt straight onto the roadway, piling up like wet sugar. It fills a monster of a crack, inches deep and with a little plant growing from it.Chris Cantle/
Miranda and Moron smooth out the patch before tamping it down. Just an hour after starting their first patch, the pavement temperature has climbed to over 120 degrees.Chris Cantle/
Miranda wields an asphalt lute, a specialized combination of rake and blade, which distributes hot AC over the bounadary of the patch evenly, then levels it. Chris Cantle/
They call it The Wacker. The gas-powered tamping device jumps around crazily, bouncing and splashing water over the roadway until it hits the AC, then it gets quiet and goes to work, hammering the fresh pavement flat.Chris Cantle/
Moron uses a little broom to seal the edges of a fresh patch with tack. He goes through boots quickly. The 24-year-old bought these about a month ago. His last pair only lasted two months before melting.Chris Cantle/
The city of Los Angeles displays a startling gusto for repairing it's potholes. Street Services boasts an average response time of two and a half days from when a pothole is reported to when a crew is dispatched to repair it.Chris Cantle/
Miranda moves the truck forward for the next patch.Chris Cantle/
Six to ten trucks a day are dispatched from LA's Street Services Metro yard.Chris Cantle/
"It's like how you spread frosting on a cake." Says Miranda.rr"You want it even, and you don't want a bite that has too much frosting."rrThe crew works their way down the hill one pothole at a time, leveling dips and dents and filling gaps as they find them.Chris Cantle/
Tack, the pitchy sealant, goes on brown when applied by a brush and dries tacky and black. A bucket of the stuff swings at the back of the truck.Chris Cantle/
It's messy work. Hot, spattered, messy work that over time has turned every inch of the back of the truck pitch black.Chris Cantle/
Water is the enemy of LA's Street Services. Water that finds its way through cracks and potholes, eroding the base, making more potholes, more cracks. Making way for plants to spring their way out of the street.Chris Cantle/
Moron tamps down hot AC while Miranda scrapes residue off a lute using another blade and a little citrus-based releasing agent.Chris Cantle/
Miranda spreads sealant on a finished patch.Chris Cantle/
The process isn't complicated, but it is demanding. Stop. Paint an edge. Pour fresh tarmac. Spread. Tamp. Seal. Repeat. From 6:30 in the morning to 3:00 in the afternoon, the crew will repair as much of Los Angeles as they can in the blistering heat.Chris Cantle/
Closing on an 11:00 am lunch break, the pavement is a blistering 142 degrees.Chris Cantle/
Moron gathers up the last of the cones stretched out around the worksite. The crew will work until 3:00 pm. The pavement will continue to get hotter. When Miranda strips off his gloves, his hands are shades lighter than his exposed forearms, which have been exposed to the grime and sun. It's tough, dirty work, but they'll leave one block of Los Angeles better for it.rr Chris Cantle/