Lalley: Cue the annual assault on the pothole scourge

Sioux Falls City Council is considering moving $500,000 into remediation but it's not going to change the weather.

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A pothole on Phillips Avenue between 8th and 9th streets in Sioux Falls on Feb. 16, 2023.
Patrick Lalley / Sioux Falls Live

SIOUX FALLS — Every … single … year.

There’s nothing quite as predictable in Sioux Falls as the annual pothole explosion.

Every single year, sometime in February, the temperature gets above freezing and the roads around the city start to pop at the cracks and seams in the pavement.

Every single year there’s a swell of public complaints.

Every single year an elected official, or someone who wants to be, says something has to be done.


It’s magical in its consistency.

This is not to pass judgment on the individual members of the Sioux Falls City Council. It’s something of a right of passage to weather the onslaught of complaints, suggestions and pseudo-expertise from the public.

We saw it play out this week.

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There is a proposal forwarded by council members Curt Soehl and Sarah Cole to supplement the pothole repair fund with $500,000 to fight the existential threat. The plan passed the first reading on Tuesday, Feb. 14, and will be considered for final approval at the regular meeting on Feb. 21.

It will probably pass.

But here’s the thing: Nobody believes that it will change anything.

No pothole is going to be filled quicker.

Sioux Falls City Councilor Sara Cole.
Contributed / City of Sioux Falls

No tire will be saved.


No motorist will be made to feel even more comfortable than they already are piloting their SUV through the mean streets of Sioux Falls if the council votes for the money.

Which is not to say that Soehl and Cole are wrong to suggest it, because as any elected official in the city — past, present or future — will tell you is that the No. 1 issue for the good and proper citizens of the Best Little City in America is streets.

It’s not poverty or homelessness or housing or crime.

It will never be public transportation or prudent planning or the budget.

It’s streets. More specifically, the condition of the driving surface.

That’s what matters most.

So forgive the councilors with less experience if they naively suggest that surely there must be some technology that the street department is overlooking. There must be a miracle cure for potholes because a guy I know who lives in Boca half the year says the streets are great in Florida.

NOTE: That’s admittedly a bit much but we exaggerate for effect.


Councilor Greg Neitzert’s comments were instructive as they discussed whether to move the money.

It’s not going to change anything.

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Potholes on Phillips Avenue between 8th and 9th streets in Sioux Falls on Feb. 16, 2023.
Patrick Lalley / Sioux Falls Live

That was pretty clear when Dustin Hansen, the operations manager for the street department and who, for the record, wasn’t asking for money, was answering questions from the council.

Neitzert asked, “If you had more money what would you do in the next 30 days to fill more potholes.”

Hansen, a guy that if you were stuck in a snowbank somewhere, is exactly who you would hope would show up with a shovel, said: “The weather is a big hindrance to us. If we don’t have good weather we can’t get them filled as fast.”

Let’s be clear, Neitzert knew exactly what he was asking.

Hansen knew that as well, but what he can’t say at that moment is, “Nothing.”

There are at least six city crews filling potholes every day, when they can. The city has a pothole hotline and you can report them online. It’s like a rapid response team for unsmooth pavement.


Let’s circle back to Soehl, the council chairman, former fireman and perhaps aspirant for other public offices.

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Sioux Falls City Councilor Curt Soehl.
Contributed / City of Sioux Falls

He also knows what he’s saying, which is, “Good people of Sioux Falls, there’s nothing we can really do about potholes that we’re not already doing but since this is the thing you care about most we’re going to say we’re spending some money on it.”

If the money doesn’t get spent on the pothole division in city government, it goes back into the general fund.

No harm, no foul.

It is, perhaps, a genius move by Soehl.

Neitzert though, nearing the end of his second term, was more blunt, saying that he’s unlikely to support shifting the money around.

“It’s not because I don’t care about potholes,” he said. “But we’ve been around this block before. In February of any given year, it’s not about the money, it’s about the weather. There’s plenty of money in the public works budget. There’s plenty of money to fill potholes. It’s really just a matter of capacity. So supplement them $500,000 or $10 million there aren’t going to be any more filled in 30 days or 60 days so.”

Or, even more bluntly: Every … single … year.


Opinion by Patrick Lalley
Patrick Lalley is the engagement editor and reporter for Sioux Falls Live. Reach him at
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