Potholes costly for state, motorists

Earlier this month, Anna Gros of Fairborn was driving home when she turned onto Interstate 675 and hit a large piece of concrete sticking out of a pothole. The large piece of debris blew out a back tire on the car, causing her to lose control and swerve into another lane on the highway.

“I was able to control my car. I was blessed,” she said. “If you’ve ever blown out your tire, you know it’s really hard to control it.”

The damage to her vehicle — including a destroyed rim, tire and strut — cost more than $590. Potholes cost drivers, local municipalities and the state billions of dollars each year in damage repairs, insurance claims and civil complaints.

The state has already used 8,818 tons of pavement patching material to repair potholes this year alone. That’s up from the 6,823 tons last year and 4,178 tons used in 2015. Matt Bruning, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Transportation, said the cost of fixing each pothole varies — it could be hundreds of dollars to thousands of dollars.

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“You’ll notice that we’ve used a lot more material patching potholes over the past couple of years,” Bruning said. “While we’re seeing more potholes, we’re also doing a better job fixing them as quickly as we can.”

Gros said the pothole was fixed the next day after her accident, and that the crews had responded quickly and appropriately. The state has already spent $4.06 million to fill potholes. The department does not track data on how many potholes are repaired each year.

“If it is a more permanent fix, you will have a bigger crew, more equipment, more expensive asphalt,” he said. “In the permanent fix you will cut out the damaged material. You make the cuts just outside of the damaged area, so that you get a good bond when you put in the new asphalt.”

Civil complaints can be filed against the state in the Ohio Court of Claims for pothole damage. If the pothole damage is $10,000 or less, drivers can file a complaint with the state court that was established in 1975 by the General Assembly. More than 1,000 Ohioans filed complaints in the past five years and were reimbursed nearly a half million dollars by the state.

More than 125 civil complaints have been filed for vehicle damage because of potholes this year, according to a state database. That number is slightly down from a couple years ago when claims skyrocketed after a brutally cold winter with quickly swinging temperatures.

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Approximately 100 civil complaints related to potholes were filed in 2013, and that number spiked to 355 filed in 2015.

Locally, some say the unseasonably warm winter conditions resulted in fewer potholes and damage vehicles — costing local municipalities and the state less in road repair and civil claims. Fred Stovall, public works director for Dayton, said there’s been less this year — similar to trends seen with last year’s mild winter as well.

“We’re always going to have potholes,” he said. “It’s been a mild winter, and we do have some pot holes but it’s nothing out of the norm.”

Potholes are typically caused by weather patterns. Through the winter months, water gets under the pavement and frees, then thaws, repeatedly. That expansion and contraction of water causes roadway material to break up. That action mixed with heavy traffic results in potholes.

“But potholes aren’t just a winter problem,” Bruning said. “They can happen in warmer weather too. Water gets under the pavement, breaks down the asphalt and creates a void. Then the traffic on top creates depressions in the pavement.”

Potholes are most noticeable when the temperature starts to warm up again after cold weather, and crews usually have the busiest work time in January and February, according to the transportation department.

Mark Breining, manager at Grismer Tire in Dayton, said it’s been a slow year for vehicle damage due to potholes. The mild winter has kept more cars on the streets and out of auto repairs shops, he said.

“The snow was so minimal,” he said. “Everyone got a break from it this year.”

If a vehicle does hit a pothole, it can do extensive damage and cost upwards of hundreds of dollars for repair. A patch repair cost about $25, but a new wheel could cost up to $300 plus the price of a new tire. If the alignment or suspension of the car has been impacted, that will cost even more.

Tracking potholes

While municipalities say there’s not many ways to prevent potholes, one local company is working to analyze and disseminate pothole data. Founded by James Bridgers, Road-Aid uses geospatial and sensor, automatic target recognition on vehicles to identify where potholes are at — and then collect, analyze and inventory data about road issues.

Bridgers said the goal is to better help consumers to understand where potholes are at, he said. And, governments can more readily “deploy a fully proactive pothole identification program” if they have the data to use.

“The average driver spends about $800 bucks a year just in vehicle maintenance due to poor road conditions- whether it’s flat tires due to potholes or just normal bumpy roads,” he told this newspaper. “As they are driving along they will be notified and then actually have the image of where that pothole is so they can drive defensively and avoid it safety.”


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