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Freeze-thaw cycle wreaks havoc on Murrysville-area roads, cars

| Wednesday, March 5, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Wayne Szalanczy can't remember winter weather has wreaked so much havoc on vehicles.

As the auto body technician at Bob McLain's Auto Body and Towing in Export, Szalanczy spends his days dealing with angry motorists who couldn't avoid crater-like potholes.

“I haven't seen it this bad in quite a while,” Szalanczy said. “Flat tires, suspension problems … Nobody is happy when their car gets broken over the road. It's quite upsetting.”

Potholes have sprung up across the region after a seemingly never-ending cycle of freezing and thawing. Locally, drivers are trying to dodge damaged sections of Route 66 in Delmont, Lincoln Avenue in Export and Sardis and School roads in Murrysville.

In a typical year, motorists have to wait until spring to use their defensive driving skills to dodge potholes.

But this year's crop of jaw-jarring craters have already begun to bloom.

“Our weather conditions — the freeze-thaw that we have experienced over the last few weeks — damages the road surface,” said Valerie Peterson, spokeswoman for the local office of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. “Water leaks down under the asphalt and when it freezes, it cracks the pavement.”

After a couple freeze-thaw cycles, those cracks erode into craters.

Whether the pockmarked road are the responsibility of the state, county or municipalities, drivers will most likely be on the hook for any damage caused to their vehicles, officials said.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has a message posted on its website informing motorists that while they can submit a claim for damage caused “as a result of the negligence of the Commonwealth” it is unlikely to be result in payment.

“The law … 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,” according to the posting.

Although municipalities don't enjoy the same carte blanche immunity on pothole liability that PennDOT has, drivers would have to show that the municipality — at a time when potholes are blossoming everywhere and keeping road crews occupied — did not respond in a reasonable amount of time after becoming aware of such road hazards.

Most insurance companies balk at the idea of reimbursing for pothole-related damage because it isn't a collision, per se, Szalanczy said.

When they've had a break from salting or scraping roads, Murrysville public works director Bob Bell and his crew have been busy bandaging them.

“This is the worst year we've ever seen,” Bell said. “The roads are falling apart.”

Bell estimates that his workers have gone through at least 30 ton of cold patch — a temporary seal for potholes — and pick up new loads four or five times each week.

The cold patch Murrysville uses doesn't require follow-up, he said – once it's laid and dried, it's good for the season. The biggest problem is letting the roads get dry enough for crews to go to work.

He hasn't heard a ton of complaints — most people aren't surprised at road conditions, he said. There was a sizable crater along Pleasant Valley Road that his workers have paid a lot of attention to, but otherwise, he has two crews who spend dry days canvassing the municipality in search of potholes.

“It's everywhere — in housing plans, on heavy trafficked roads,” Bell said. “There's no certain areas that are getting hit. We've been pretty proactive.”

Szalanczy said there isn't really anywhere in the region that has been spared from potholes.

“It's pretty much so everywhere,” Szalanczy said. “In Export, in Murrysville, heading to Mamont, it's hard to avoid wherever you go.”

Staff writer Tony LaRussa contributed to this report. Daveen Rae Kurutz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8627, or dkurutz@tribweb.com.

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