Published January 29th, 2020 at 6:00 AM
Lish Ways hit a yawning pothole on 75th Street in Waldo last weekend. By Monday, a tire on her recently purchased 2016 Kia Forte was flat as a pancake.
Mark Trokey’s Automotive fixed her bent tire rim. But the $97 bill was a car payment she didn’t anticipate — or appreciate.
“I think it’s horrible,” Ways said. “It’s too early to be this bad. I’m constantly dodging potholes as I drive.”
Her neighbors are running the same obstacle course. And just as most potholes start out small, with water slipping through a crack in the pavement, the makings of a pothole revolt are stirring in Waldo.
Jolting reminders of last winter’s pothole nightmare and a seemingly endless construction project on 75th Street have given rise to a lively social media protest that has caught the eye of City Hall.
The unofficial leader of this bumpy bandwagon is Waldonian Frank Sereno, who took to neighborhood Facebook pages over the weekend to announce the creation of a fake business he calls Waldo Off-Road Street Training — WORST for short.
“Learn new hazardous road driving techniques with an expert instructor while exploring more difficult roads like 75th Street between Ward Parkway and Wornall” Road, Sereno caustically wrote.
He accompanied his post with a video of a drive down pock-marked 75th Street.
Sereno followed up with a Change.org petition calling on Kansas City officials to end “years of city neglect” and make permanent fixes to the streets.
“Each year, Waldo residents hope KCMO will repave the roads only to receive temporary cover-the-symptom patching,” he wrote. Sereno mentioned Kansas City’s high sales tax rate and wrote, “We demand and expect more from the significant tax dollars we pay.”
Within just a few days Sereno was closing in on his goal of 500 signatures.
This is not Sereno’s first pothole protest. He enjoyed a short stint in the media limelight last year when he plopped a slice of birthday cake and candle into the depths of a pothole near his home and celebrated the crater’s three-month anniversary.
But city officials appear to recognize that what’s going on in Waldo is bigger than the creative agitation of a single citizen — and perhaps also that vocal complaints about road conditions and high sales taxes are not helpful now that the City Council has placed a request for a new sales tax increase on the April ballot.
Mayor Quinton Lucas reported on his Facebook page Monday that he’d been meeting with staff about potholes that morning. “We understand they’re a problem,” he said, and asked citizens to call 311 with locations.
His post prompted a slew of comments, many of them reporting pothole locations. “Literally any road in Waldo,” one reader remarked.
The city Water Department also weighed in on Facebook, referring to the mess on 75th Street between Wornall Road and Ward Parkway, where work on a water main replacement has been ongoing since September. Traffic is frequently confined to one pothole-riddled lane in each direction.
“We understand the potholes are terrible!” said the KC Water Facebook page. “We are coordinating with Public Works on addressing maintenance in this area.”
Andrea Bough and Kevin McManus, the council members representing Waldo and South Kansas City, both said they had sought updates from the Public Works Department. In a memo, the department said a pothole patching crew would be on 75th Street this week, and a complete resurfacing could take place this summer.
That would be good news for Damian Nelson, who manages the Shell gas station at 75th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. It is also the location of the popular Papu’s Cafe, which serves Middle Eastern food. Nelson said losses for the businesses were approaching five figures.
“A lot of people are avoiding 75th Street,” he said. “It’s unpleasant.”
Over at the Waldo Area Business Association, executive director Dorna Edgar Swan finds the emphasis on her district unpleasant.
“All of Kansas City has potholes right now,” she said. “I don’t think Waldo’s potholes are any worse than anywhere else.”
Swan is not a fan of attention-getting tactics like those employed by Sereno. “He threw a birthday party for a pothole,” she said. “I mean, really?”
As for the water main work on 75th Street, Swan sees that as a long-term plus for the area.
“For the first time the city is paying attention to Waldo,” she said. “How many people here have flooded basements? This is supposed to help them. I think people need to be patient.”
One thing everybody agrees on is that Kansas City needs to get out of the patch-and-pave cycle that never really fixes the pothole problems.
McManus, the city’s mayor pro tem, said he expects street issues to loom large when the City Council considers the next fiscal year’s budget. While some streets are scheduled for reconstruction — the most permanent but expensive fix — resurfacing is a more realistic hope for most neighborhoods.
“I’m sure we’ll spend a lot of time talking about how much are we spending on resurfacing and where are we spending it,” McManus said.
McManus has been monitoring the Waldo Facebook pages, where some commenters have pointed out rather bitterly that while they were dodging potholes last week, the City Council voted to put a quarter-cent sales tax on the April ballot to fund improvements to fire stations and the ambulance fleet.
“Will (potholes) impact a vote? Yeah, it could,” said McManus, who voted along with all but two council members to put the sales tax question on the ballot. (Lucas was absent for the vote.)
“Confidence in city government drives voting decisions. We’re responsible for the streets,” McManus said.
Potholes and revolts share an insidious nature. Cracks in street surfaces freeze over and become craters. Rumblings in neighborhoods grow into all-out protests.
Right now, Kansas City appears challenged to get a handle on either.
Flatland contributor Barbara Shelly is a freelance writer based in Kansas City.