Motorists' damage claims piling up

Loose gravel on Interstate 26 near College Park Road has damaged windshields on several vehicles.

Motorists so far have filed 72 damage claims with the state Department of Transportation alleging that loose rocks on worn stretches of Interstate 26 and the Mark Clark Expressway damaged their cars and trucks, records show.

The Transportation Department said the claims total about $80,000, roughly $1,100 per vehicle. The agency provided the information in response to a request under the state's open records law.

Officials initially declined to release the information, saying it was confidential legal information.

But after a Post and Courier Watchdog report on the issue, Transportation Secretary H.B. "Buck" Limehouse Jr. wrote the newspaper saying the agency is "keeping no information related to these claims 'secret,' " and that staffers still were reviewing claims.

In a subsequent letter to Watchdog, the agency said it had received 72 claims for $80,000 as of April 5.

For more than a year, motorists have braved storms of loose rocks on I-26 between Summerville and North Charleston and parts of the Mark Clark Expressway in West Ashley and Mount Pleasant. Motorists told Watchdog that the rocks cracked their windshields and ruined paint jobs. Some said the situation was so bad that they now avoid taking I-26.

The problem stems from the use of what's known as "open graded friction" asphalt. This particular asphalt mix reduces splattering and spray in wet weather, but it also can come apart quickly at the end of its life cycle.

Highway engineers said the winter's cold weather seemed to speed the asphalt's deterioration but that the agency plans to resurface parts of the highways in May when the weather warms. Crews need stable and warm temperatures at night to properly do their work.

In his letter, Limehouse said his agency has yet to pay any claims. "Once the review process has been completed, then valid claims will be paid," he said.

Damaged car?

If your vehicle is damaged by rocks on Interstate 26, visit the state Department of Transportation's office at 2401 Maintenance Way, North Charleston, to receive a claims form and instructions. Call 740-1655 for more information.