Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about those goddamn metal plates

But didn’t care enough to ask

You drive over them — or, more likely, around them — every day. Those big, clunky steel plates that mar Atlanta’s roadways. They don’t quite equal potholes — the unparalleled scourges of Atlanta — in terms of the sheer annoyance they cause, but they are annoying and they do damage: Nearly 30 drivers filed claims with the city last year alleging their cars had been damaged by the pesky plates. And if it seems like there’s a lot of them out there, that’s because there are — more than 580 were on city streets back in June. So, at the risk of sounding like Jerry Seinfeld, what’s the deal with these metal plates?

Back in 2002, then-Mayor Shirley Franklin “declared war” on the city’s badly pockmarked streets by creating the woefully named “Pothole Posse,” a collection of road crews tasked with repairing the city’s backlog of potholes. Part of the deal was also that the city would better enforce deadlines for utility companies to repair the cuts they make in roadways to access pipes, cables and other hardware. Until their work is completed — and for five days afterward — utilities like Atlanta Gas Light or the city’s own Department of Watershed Management are permitted to slap metal plates over their cuts. Repairing the cuts isn’t the city’s job, but the Department of Public Works does oversee the permitting process. It’s also supposed to keep track of where the plates are being placed and for how long they stay there — which can be a long time. And, as unlikely as it seems, the massive hunks of metal do get lost in the shuffle.

So, in the meantime, the plates have become something we’re all intimately familiar with yet know nothing about. We got with officials from the city and the Georgia Department of Transportation to gather some facts about the plates we all love to hate.

Varieties of plates:

According to the Georgia Department of Transportation, state plates vary in size from 4 feet x 4 feet to 12 feet x 20 feet

The Atlanta Department of Public Works usually deals with two sizes:

6 feet x 12 feet and 6 feet x 20 feet

Are the plates ever stolen for scrap?

Not really, probably because of how much they weigh ...
A 6 foot x 12 foot plate weighs about 3,000 lbs., or 1.75 Smart cars
A 6 foot x 20 foot plate weighs about 6,650 lbs., or almost 4 Smart cars

Number of plates in Atlanta’s roadways as of June 2010: 587

Number of plates in Atlanta’s roadways as of Jan. 2011: 134

Public Works spokeswoman Valerie Bell-Smith says the huge drop in the number of actively deployed plates can be explained, at least in part, by the type of projects they’re being used for and the time of year during which they’re being used. “Weather conditions also affect construction schedules, so there may be less during cold weather periods,” Bell-Smith says.

In 2010 (and during its first meeting of 2011), Atlanta City Council awarded $14,234.59 to drivers who claim to have sustained damage to their cars as a result of driving over unsecured plates. The average amount awarded: $1,582.

Total number of claims filed against the City of Atlanta for damage incurred because of the plates: 28
Favorable (money awarded): 9
Unfavorable (no money awarded): 19

Council sided with the public just 32 percent of the time.

Permitting process:
90: Permits for the plates are typically issued for periods of 90 days
270: If necessary, permits can be extended beyond 90 days, but not exceeding 270 days (that’s roughly nine months)
5: After work is completed, plates have to be removed from the roadway within five days

See a plate you hate (or at least one that’s obstructing traffic flow)? Contact Atlanta Public Works at 404-330-6333 or via e-mail at publicworks@atlantaga.gov.