Can’t Read My Poker Face

Have you ever wondered about those little poker chips embedded in the street? Typically, they are in asphalt patches and come in a variety of colors. Surprisingly, it takes quite a bit of digging (pun intended) to find more information. Generally called asphalt tags, in Boston they are referred to as Utility Repair Tag pavement markers. When fully exposed, they look like a cross between a plastic milk bottle top and a pizza saver in the middle of pizza that stops the box from collapsing on it.

In Spring 2011, the City of Boston Public Works Department initiated a new policy for patching procedures that requires all utility companies, private contractors, city contractors, and other agencies (also known as permittees) who perform excavation work on the City’s roadways or sidewalks to install a color-coded identification marker into the surface of their asphalt patches.

Each tag has:

  • the permittee’s unique bond number on the top,
  • the year the patch was performed in the center, and
  • either the permittee’s name (for major utility companies) or specially assigned indemnification code (for private contractors) on the bottom. As for colors, the City of Boston Public Works Department assigns each permittee a unique color.


Public Works assigns most permittees a unique color with all private contractors being assigned green.

The use of Utility Repair Tag pavement markers:

  • ensures accountability of each and every patch left after construction,
  • saves the City time and resources through fast identification of patch creators,
  • and provides an incentive for permittees to do the best possible job.


Boston is not the only city that uses these tags. If you are still interested in this topic, like I was, check out this Medium article for more information about the New York City asphalt tag program initiated in 2006: The Street’s Secret Code.

In short, this means that the City can more easily locate who disturbed the asphalt if there is an issue with the Utility Repair Tag pavement markers and may require the permittee to fix at their own expense if the patch does not meet the performance warranty for a specified period of time.

And for a pop culture reference, check out the Paving for Pizza campaign currently being pushed by Domino’s Pizza.