Tired of unfixed potholes, two guys bypassed City Hall and got to work

One of the potholes Open Source Roads has patched.
One of the potholes Open Source Roads has patched.

Potholes. That eternal plague of the city street.

They’re an endless (and dangerous) nuisance, especially in cities like Indianapolis where the weather and climate change dramatically over the year. Damaged roads can let in water, which then freezes, expands, and cracks the road to create a pothole, letting even more water in and causing more cracks that create even more potholes.

It can be hard to keep up. Fresh off filling as many as 45,000 damaged road areas in a “pothole blitz,” a city official told Fox 59 in March the public works department was already anticipating having to sweep back over the city and fill them again.

But two local citizens decided they didn’t need to wait around for crews to come and fix their roads. With some supplies, a few bucks and some elbow grease, they could just do the job themselves.

“If the city is going to fail at their own monopoly, why should they have that monopoly?” Chris Lang, a leader of the grassroots organization Open Source Roads, told The Indy Star. “We want to fill a lot of potholes, and we want people to help out and see that we don't need to rely on this monopoly for it, and I want that to be what starts the people in charge talking about change,” he told the paper.

Lang and his pothole partner Mike Warren, told the Indy Star they had fixed more than 100 potholes in the last year. “Overwhelmingly, the response has been positive,” Warren, told WISH. “I've had people give me spare bottles of water, some food, camaraderie.”

Lang studies engineering at a local university and Warren works as a software developer and drives for Uber Eats, according to the Indy Star. They told the paper their funding comes from their paychecks and from donations.

The two created a Facebook group for Open Source Roads, which is described as “a grassroots volunteer-driven organization dedicated to fixing the roads, using the philosophy of open-source.” Open-source refers to a type of software that has its source code available for anyone to add to, improve or tinker with.

“We aim to draw attention to the failing infrastructure of Indianapolis and the legislative cutbacks that have created this problem,” the group’s description reads.

A GoFundMe campaign to jump-start Open Source Roads as a nonprofit netted more than $800 in April so far. On the page, Warren writes that he plans to buy a compactor, more asphalt, safety equipment, and technology services to create an app and website to track and report potholes.

The only problem? Fixing those potholes may not be, strictly speaking, allowed.

“We appreciate [Warren’s] passion to be part of the solution when it comes to road repairs, but there are certain protocols which include getting a permit to work in the city’s right of way. This ensures that the city knows what work is being performed on city-owned assets, who is doing the work and what materials are being used,” said Betsy Whitmore, Indianapolis Department of Public Works communications director, in a statement to WISH. “Safety is the greatest concern on this matter. Working in open traffic requires training and attention to safety standards.”

She urged citizens to report road problems to the city to be fixed by work crews.

Warren told WISH he hasn’t gotten in trouble yet, and intends to continue. “I've had about a dozen cop cars drive by me or cross paths with me. Not one of them has tried to write me a citation or lock me up,” he told the station.

In the winter, potholes are a constant challenge for drivers. This video from the Utah Department of Transportation shows how potholes form because of winter weather.