WEST CHESTER>>If you think the pothole problem is especially bad this year, you’re right.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has already spent $1.2 million this winter repairing potholes, using more than 22,000 tons of asphalt material. Last year during the same time frame, just 1,669 tons of asphalt material was used.
“We’re getting into the heart of pothole season,” said Charles Metzger, spokesman for PennDOT District. 6. “We’ve got every available crew out there dedicated to pothole repair.”
Potholes are larger and more prevalent this year because of the excessive number of freeze and thaw cycles we’ve had this year. Potholes form when moisture gets into cracks in the road’s surface, freezes at night and expands when warmer during the day, pushing up on the asphalt. It takes several of these cycles for potholes to form. February’s record cold contributed to larger craters in the roadway.
Because daylight is now a bit longer, Metzger said PennDOT this week switched over to the hot mix asphalt, which is a more permanent application. During the colder months, cold patch was used, but Metzger said this is just a temporary fix and typically comes undone by snow plows.
The excessive number of potholes is bringing brisk business to area service stations. When vehicles hit a pothole at speeds greater than 40 mph, it usually damages the vehicle’s front-end alignment. If left untreated, tires wear much more quickly and the vehicle becomes a bit harder to steer.
“We’ve had a lot of people come in with front-end damage, and tires blown out,” said Brian Blittersdorf of Blitz Automotive in Kennett Square. “I’ve even seen one with a bent wheel. It’s really bad out there.”
But don’t think about passing the cost of car damage due to potholes off to PennDOT.
Any individual who believes they have sustained damages as a result of the negligence of the commonwealth may file a claim for recovery. The law, however, prohibits the payment of property damage (tires, rims, etc.) as a result of a pothole. Because of this, no reimbursement has ever been made for a claim of this type.
But Tim Rayne, a Kennett attorney who specializes in personal injury and civil litigation law, said although the state is immune from property damage to your vehicle caused by a pothole, it can be held liable for personal injury resulting from potholes.
“Local municipalities can be held liable for both property damage and personal injuries caused by potholes, but only if they knew of or should have discovered the pothole and failed to repair it within a reasonable period of time,” he said.
PennDOT and municipalities are given a “reasonable time” to fix potholes, Rayne said. Determining whether a valid injury claim exists after a crash caused by a pothole requires investigation into the records of potholes and an analysis of whether an unreasonable amount of time passed between the time the pothole was reported and the rime of the crash.
Anyone can report a pothole. PennDOT has set up a pothole repair hotline (1-800-FIX-ROAD). This number should not be used to report traffic accidents, disabled vehicles or other emergencies.
PENNDOT maintains approximately 42,000 miles of highways, a responsibility greater than that of state highway agencies of New York, New Jersey and the six New England states – combined.
Metzger said anyone reporting a pothole on the pothole hotline can see it repaired inside of two days.