Friday Photo: Illuminations of Harrisburg’s financial crisis

Front and Kelker Street, July 2012
Front and Kelker Street, July 2012

I hold Harrisburg’s Department of Public Works in high esteem — they’re up against a tough situation.

On November 11, I wrote that the numerous potholes in Harrisburg are part of the visible symptoms of Harrisburg’s financial crisis.  They appear like chicken pox, displaying the disease: a car-creaking plummet on the left two lanes on Second Street crossing Forester, the partial collapse of Verbeke Street between Second and Front that was blocked off for repairs.  Not enough city money means less materials and available labor to make repairs, a fact that is not the fault of the Department of Public Works but is unfairly theirs to solve.

The photo above was taken during last night’s pouring rain at the intersection of Front and Kelker, where two 12- by 24-inch drainage ditches are easily overwhelmed by rapid rain.  The blurry colors show cars whooshing through the heavy puddles like a water ride at an amusement park, throwing a sheet of headlight-lit waves higher than the car itself. I’ve driven this road myself during rain, and the amount of water you hit causes completely loss of visibility as well as potential hydroplaning and loss of control.

I met Ernie Hoch, Director of Public Works, when I was writing “A Powman’s Perspective of Harrisbug Snow Removal,” published in the January 2012 issue of The Burg. When not talking about snow, we talked about Harrisburg. Ernie could map the city by its physical faults like the back of his hand — pointing out to me each broken lamppost, each collapsed sidewalk as we drove past.  I asked him what residents should do if they notice a problem, and he responded: “Keep calling us.”  With so many issues and so little resources, one of the most difficult problems his department faces is knowing what to prioritize.

Knowing this, I looked at Ernie’s number on my phone this morning but walked first to the corner of Front and Kelker. In one of the drains was draped a black T-shirt fully covering all the grates, the exact color of the pavement. I can’t imagine it was put there intentionally (although who loses shirts unintentionally?), and last night it was clear that neither drain was emptying quickly enough.

But the T-shirt shows that our city is not just the responsibility of the Ernie Hoch and his department — it’s all of ours to care for and save. I will contact the Department of Public Works to make sure the problem is on their radar, but I will remove the shirt before I call.


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