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City's Concrete-Spitting 'Python' Has Tough Start in Fight Against Potholes

By Jill Colvin | March 20, 2012 7:02am

QUEENS — The Python has been unleashed on city streets.

The Python Pothole Patcher is the city's latest weapon against crevices and cracks that are the bane of New York drivers — but the impressively named machine failed to amaze Mayor Michael Bloomberg Monday.

Standing on 34th Road in Flushing, Queens, the mayor watched as the hulking yellow four-wheeler lumbered and lurched toward a small pothole alongside the curb.

After releasing a puddle of water onto the road, the Python’s mechanical mouth began spewing a mixture of hot water and steaming chunks of asphalt into the hole. It lurched awkwardly to the side, spitting more pebbles clumsily forward as the mayor stood staring silently.

The Python Pothole Patcher meets its pothole foe on 34th Road in Queens.
The Python Pothole Patcher meets its pothole foe on 34th Road in Queens.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

After more gurgling and popping, the machine finally used its rake to lay the pebbles flat and tried to smooth them with its roller. More than six minutes later, the machine finally pulled away — leaving behind a less-than-elegant, sort-of-patched hole.

"As you can see, it’s hard to operate it," the mayor told watching reporters.

"But they’ll learn how to operate it," he assured, explaining that the Python was really intended for use on large, busy roadways where the city is often forced to block multiple lanes of traffic as crews of five or six people work to seal holes, mostly by hand.

In the case of the 34th Road hole, a shovel may have worked faster, Bloomberg acknowledged. 

"It is very difficult to automate something that people can do by hand, in some cases," he said.

But this machine should make filling potholes more efficient. It takes just one man to operate and can work with only one lane of traffic closed, he said.

"We’ve been trying lots of different things from around the world to find something that can just move in and do it quickly without having to slow down all the traffic," Bloomberg said.

The Python is currently being rented for $2,500 a month by the city for a trial period of roughly three months so officials can test it.

It has filled about 100 potholes so far, including problem spots on the Henry Hudson, Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan said.

The city has patched 164,000 potholes so far this year, a large drop from last year — when 274,00 had been filled by this time following a brutal winter that ravaged roads.

A record-breaking 418,000 potholes were filled last fiscal year.