080513 Pothole Killer

James Neiss/staff photographer Niagara Falls, NY - Vince Caterina, owner of the Rapids Gun Shop, left and customer Miles Gebauer, a retired Niagara Falls fire captain, came outside of the Buffalo Avenue business to watch the Pothole Killer filling potholes on Buffalo Avenue.

The killers are on pothole patrol.

For a month, three machines called Pothole Killers will be touring the city and, more importantly, filling the craters in the streets that we’ve come to know but not necessarily love. The city is spending $110,000 to lease the machines in the hopes they can work efficiently enough to fill all the holes in Niagara Falls’ streets before the official start of summer.

In order to get an idea of how well the killer does its work, we headed out to LaSalle to travel Buffalo Avenue, one of the machines’ first targets; ground zero in the war on potholes.

In getting there it became clear that if one wanted to take a short ride and get a feel for all that is wrong and right and improving about this city’s streets, just take a trip down 77th Street. In the space of about a mile, it provides an excellent take on the whole situation.

Turn south on 77th from Niagara Falls Boulevard and you see and feel all that everyone is complaining about. There are deep craters, difficult to dodge, which undoubtedly have claimed many a ball joint or other front end part and a tire or two as their victims.

But continue south under the LaSalle Expressway and something little short of miraculous occurs. You know that scene in the “Wizard of Oz” when Dorothy comes out of the house that had been transported via tornado to the magical land? It’s kind of like that. You half expect to see and hear the Munchkins singing and dancing and the birds chirping and bunnies and squirrels cavorting.

The reason for all that joy: The street is smooth. I mean close to perfect. The curbing is new. The sidewalks are level. This section of 77th was recently redone and it shows. Not only that but, having traveled that street in decades past, it appears that property owners are taking greater pride in their homes. There’s more new paint, new siding, well-trimmed lawns.

Is the good feeling that a reconstructed street provides contagious? Does it encourage private property owners to spruce up their homes? I don’t know of a study that shows one way or another, but just by observation, it seems to be the case.

Then it’s back to reality once the turn is made onto Buffalo Avenue. That’s the street where the Pothole Killers were hard at work. It shows. The roadway is still bumpy, but at least it’s from the asphalt that fills the former potholes. It’s a temporary fix but a big improvement over the big craters that recently populated the street.

In all fairness to the city, the bad part of 77th Street is among the first scheduled to be tackled this summer with a major reconstruction project. Perhaps it will soon look like the rebuilt section. That certainly is the hope.

The point of all this: Reconstructing the city’s infrastructure will not be quick, it will not be easy, it will not be cheap. It will happen in steps: First fill the potholes, then reconstruct the roads.

Niagara Falls wasn’t built in a day. It didn’t fall apart that fast, either. It won’t be rebuilt for a while. But if you’d like to get a glimpse of both the problem and the solution, take that trip down 77th Street.

Dick Lucinski is the managing editor of the Niagara Gazette. His columns appear on Wednesday and Sunday.

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