Costly potholes leave local roads looking ‘like a lunar landscape’

A car drives past a pothole on Xenia Avenue. Potholes are expected to pop up across the region as temperatures fluctuate. MARSHALL GORBY/STAFF

Combined ShapeCaption
A car drives past a pothole on Xenia Avenue. Potholes are expected to pop up across the region as temperatures fluctuate. MARSHALL GORBY/STAFF

State pays million to fix potholes, reimburse motorists for vehicle damage

John Robert Manley of Springboro was driving his BMW Z4 on Interstate 71 when he hit a pothole that caused nearly $1,000 in car repair.

Potholes are wreaking havoc on roads across Ohio as wild temperature fluctuations cause asphalt to expand and break. They cost motorists thousands of dollars a year in fixes and force the state to pay millions of dollars to patch potholes and reimburse drivers who file claims.

“This section of the road was in abysmal condition, like a lunar landscape,” Manley said in a Ohio Court of Claims complaint. “I slowed down to the safest speed I could while maintaining speed with traffic. I was unable to avoid a jarring hit of the pothole.”

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The Dayton Daily News found from 2013 to May 1, 2018, the Ohio Court of Claims paid out $3.4 million in pothole in pothole claims. A transportation spokesman said some drivers don’t win claims because they haven’t adequately proven that a pothole caused the damage. He advised drivers to document when their vehicle is damaged by a pothole with photos, dates, and other documents.

To file a complaint, drivers should remember, according the Ohio of Claims:

• Immediately report the incident and begin preparing affidavits for use in the case. These can be statements of others who witnessed the same road conditions.

• Photographs of damage can also be submitted. Plaintiffs will need to provide repair estimates and invoices.

• It’s the driver’s responsibility to prove the state is negligent. ODOT Is required to file an investigative report, as well as supply phone logs and maintenance records of road repairs.

Matt Bruning, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Transportation, said the temperature swings occurring in the region are “absolutely brutal” for roads — January and February’s are two of the worst months for the creation of potholes. Since October, ODOT has used 2,574 tons of asphalt for road repairs. That cost the state $1.1 million for labor, equipment and materials.

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In Montgomery County, 10 tons of asphalt has been used this season. The department does not track data on how many potholes are repaired each year.

Typically, potholes form when moisture collects in small holes and cracks in the road surface. As temperatures rise and fall, the moisture expands and contracts due to freezing and thawing. This breaks up the pavement and, combined with the weight of passing cars, eventually results in the formation of potholes, according to AAA.

Last year, the Ohio Department of Transportation used 1,892 tons of asphalt for the same period of time last year, but Bruning said a late start to the winter last year likely contributed to the increase in asphalt used this year.

Hot asphalt mix cannot be used in frigid weather, so Bruning said crews use a cold mix for temporary fixes to pot holes until they can be permanently repaired in the spring. There’s no easy to prevent potholes from forming in the Ohio climate, Bruning said, but crew do seal road cracks in the summer to prevent water from freezing and expanding in those cracks in the winter.

The transportation department uses multiple materials and equipment to perform pavement repair during the winter. The method depends on the location and size of the pothole and the availability of equipment, according the department:

• Spray application – this method uses specifically-designed equipment which mixes liquid asphalt and small stone together. The operator then sprays the patching material onto the pavement.

• Recycled asphalt – asphalt which has been removed as part of a previous repair is placed into an asphalt hot box and reheated. It is then dispensed by crews onto the roadway.

• Bagged cold mix – a ready-made product which is placed directly into the area needing repair.

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The City of Dayton has already patched 1,600 potholes in January, said Tom Ritchie Jr., Dayton’s deputy director of public works.

“You get a lot of freezing and thawing right now,” he said. “We are currently going out into neighborhoods and marking where the potholes are and patching them in between snow storms.”

Ritchie said it’s helpful if drivers submit pothole complaints via the city’s Dayton Delivers phone app or by calling the service center number at 937-333-4800.

Potholes generates hundreds of cases against the state in the Ohio Court of Claims each year. When a driver hits a pothole and damages their car, they can file claims for reimbursement in the Ohio court. In January, at least 12 people in Ohio filed claims against the state for pothole-related damages.

“Driving over potholes formed by weather extremes and heavy traffic can damage a tire’s internal steel belts and force it ‘to go out of round.’ This negatively impacts your ability to drive comfortably and safely,” said Jon Bucher, Dayton-based AAA Tire & Auto Manager, in a statement.

Pothole damage is usually not covered by a bare-bones liability insurance policy. According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, 71 percent of insured drivers purchase collision coverage in addition to liability.

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Pothole damage on Ohio highways

If the pothole damage is $10,000 or less, drivers can file a complaint with the little known Ohio Court of Claims, which was established in 1975 by the General Assembly. Motorists can file a claim at https://ohiocourtofclaims.gov/

Potholes in Dayton

Submit pothole complaints via the city’s Dayton Delivers phone app or by calling the service center number at 937-333-4800.

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