As sunny days and warm temperatures melt the remainder of February’s historic snowstorms, it’s not without consequences. It’s officially pothole season.
Drivers who encounter these road hazards have a convenient way to report potholes and other public works issues to the city via the mobile app UPLNK. It is not an emergency reporting app, but it does handle more than just potholes. In just the last week, Lincoln residents reported issues such as an unsafe tree near an intersection, trash accumulating on lawns, street light outages, graffiti and muddy streets. On the app itself, users can choose from over 40 different reporting categories.
When users access the app to report an issue, a geographic pin is automatically placed on the city map to log the issue. Citizens can describe the issue in detail, or they can simply upload and attach an image of the problem.
“We have two seasons in Lincoln: snow removal season and street repair season,” said Lin Quenzer, who oversees resident complaints about city issues as Lincoln Ombudsman. “We’re doing one of those two things all the time, and sometimes both of them, and UPLNK helps with both.”
An early precursor to UPLNK was the Lincoln Action Center, a desktop-based program that was first introduced in 2005. That system worked well for over a decade, but one downside was that all reports had to be manually entered into the city’s system.
UPLNK replaced the Action Center in 2018, and its platform automatically generates a ticket and forwards it to the proper department, a system that Quenzer said saves time for the city’s departments. Over 900 reports are visible to the public on an interactive city map where citizens can view the status or their report as well as other open or ongoing issues.
“The Action Center went very well for a number of years until we realized that we needed to be able to give people the same functionality on their phones as their desktops,” Quenzer said. “It’s been really good to give people some control, and it really helps to focus our resources too.”
Other Nebraskan cities such as Omaha and Kearney still utilize a classic approach to reporting resident issues with phone calls.
The Omaha Public Works Department also has a 24-hour reporting form on its website, but most resident reports came through the mayor’s hotline. Carrie Murphy, the Omaha mayor’s deputy chief of staff, said the combination of email, phone and online reporting makes it very accessible for residents to bring their issues to the city.
“The hotline handles a little bit of everything, such as requests for services from any city department, questions, and complaints,” Murphy said. “If a citizen is reporting a street problem, litter, a housing or building code violation, abandoned vehicles, trash collection, a park problem, library issue, etc, the hotline can take that report and create a request for service to be handled by the appropriate department.”
Omaha also introduced an app of its own on Feb. 24, the Mobile Omaha app. The app contains links to the mayor’s hotline, parking, city news, the Douglas County Health Department, Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles and more.
While there is no inherent reporting function within the app like UPLNK, Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert still considers Mobile Omaha as a key service for local residents.
“The mobile app is another way for the City to provide convenient access to information and services,” Stothert said in a press release. “Taxpayers benefit from timely, accurate communications.”
The UPLNK app is just one way that technological advancements are changing the way Lincoln’s potholes get filled. In the past three years, Lincoln Transportation and Utilities has begun scanning streets to create plans for repair. The department also has four pothole patching machines that only require one person to operate instead of a whole crew, another improvement that Quenzer said has resulted in quicker response times.
Lincoln’s pothole problem may never go away entirely, but UPLNK is one tool that can make for a smoother ride at least.
“Every year we get more and more potholes because our street infrastructure is aging,” Quenzer said. “I don’t know that we’ll keep this particular platform forever either, but right now it certainly meets our needs and has streamlined our processes quite a bit.”