Potholes prove costly for Pa. drivers | TribLIVE.com

Potholes prove costly for Pa. drivers

Jason Cato | Tribune-Review
PennDOT crew members Andy Hayden, left, of Greensburg, and Ray Kalvora, of Arona, fill potholes with cold patch along Route 993 at Bushy Run Battlefield in Penn Township on Thursday, March 7, 2019.
A PennDOT illustration shows how potholes are created.

Pennsylvania’s ubiquitous potholes cost taxpayers more than $63 million last year, transportation data show. In Southwestern Pennsylvania, those costs were more than $11 million.

Contrary to popular perception, fixing potholes is a year-round job.

And if a season existed for these pesky road craters that wreak havoc on the asphalt and on Pennsylvanians’ commutes, this would be it.

“We always do pothole repairs,” Steve Cowan, a PennDOT spokesman, told the Tribune-Review. “Obviously, this is the time of the year where potholes are very problematic.”

Potholes are formed with the freeze and thaw cycle when water seeps into the soil beneath a roadway’s surface. Once the temperature drops, the precipitation freezes, expanding the ground and pushing up the pavement. And then a thaw with warmer weather leaves a gap between the pavement and the ground.

Roll a vehicle over the cavity, and presto, the pavement surface cracks, creating a pothole.

So while patching asphalt might be a perennial job, the warmer temperatures likely mean more roadway nuisances will pop up right along with orange pylon cones.

PennDOT is responsible for maintaining about 41,600 miles of the more than 120,000 miles of roadway in Pennsylvania.

Last year, potholes on state roads required close to 190,000 tons of asphalt to repair. Allegheny, Washington and Westmore­land counties alone used more than 7,900 tons.

Statewide, repair costs were up from 2016, when PennDOT spent just $35.2 million fixing holes.

Allegheny County led the region’s counties with $4.1 million in pothole repair costs last year, followed by Butler ($1.9 million), Washington ($1.6 million), Westmoreland ($1.2 million) and Beaver ($1 million) counties.

These costs don’t include damage sustained after a vehicle drops into a road cavern. In Pennsylvania, drivers can file a claim for vehicle damages that result from hitting a pothole, although the state isn’t liable for any property damage.

None of the nearly 1,200 claims filed in 2018 were paid out, according to data provided by the Pennsylvania Department of General Services.

Drivers in the southwestern part of the state accounted for about half of the claims filed last year.

“I’m not really sure that there’s a correlation between the number of claims for pothole damage and the repairs done at the county level,” said Troy Thompson, a General Services spokesman.

PennDOT pothole repairs for the seven-county region accounted for about 15 percent of the 2018 statewide costs.

Spring’s milder temperatures are a sure sign the thaw will sprout more road divots and yellow-vested crews pouring asphalt patches.

“I’ve noticed a lot more potholes within the last month or so, so I guess you can say it’s mostly this time of year,” said Joe Altieri, an automotive technician at McElhinney’s Service in Murrysville.

Common vehicle damage includes cracked, broken and bent wheels, along with pinched tires and alignment issues.

“At this time of year, in spring, when the potholes start to form, we see a higher volume of tires that are ‘impact broke,’ ” said Harry Hoffman, manager of Highland Tire in Tarentum.

Nicole C. Brambila is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Nicole at 724-226-7704, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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