We don’t hate potholes just because they’re jarring. Or because they provide too-frequent reminders of government not doing the job we want it to do. We also hate them because they’re expensive.
AAA says we’re spending an average of $300 a year on pothole damage to our vehicles.
Then add in all the other costs from driving on roads worn down to the base because we hadn’t raised our per-gallon gasoline tax in three decades, which meant the money available to repair roads stayed about the same as costs skyrocketed. The national transportation lobbying group TRIP in 2017 said Charleston-area residents were paying an incredible $1,850 a year in automobile wear and tear, extra repairs and extra time in traffic-clogged highways.
That last one was a little squishy, but even if you take it out, the group estimated we were spending $452 a year because of “accelerated vehicle depreciation, additional repair costs, increased fuel consumption and tire wear.”
Little wonder, then, that one of the biggest arguments for raising South Carolina’s rock-bottom gas tax two years ago was that the potholes and other road hazards were costing us far more in car repairs and extra maintenance than the $60 a year we’d pay in higher taxes once the 12-cents-a-gallon tax increase was phased in.
Department of Transportation officials said they only pay out on around 40 percent of claims for reimbursement from pothole damages. At the city level, a Post and Courier analysis shows it's even less than that.
The good news, as The Post and Courier’s Conner Mitchell reports, is that the state Transportation Department and local governments have been picking up part of that cost: nearly $240,000 worth in the tri-county area since 2013.
The bad news is that most car repair claims are rejected, for reasons that the state won’t give but that we assume raise questions about whether the pothole really was responsible for the damage.
The other good news is that repair costs should be slowly coming down as the gas tax revenue continues to increase and the state continues to ramp up its road-repair program. The Transportation Department has filled nearly 930,000 potholes since 2013, an average of 185,550 per year. And the number is on the rise.
The other bad news is that, unless we’re willing to pay for a road-repair schedule that is ridiculously expensive, there will always be potholes — because roads will always wear out, just like our cars will always wear out.
So by all means, if you get a big repair bill from an unfortunate encounter with a pothole, file a reimbursement request with the Transportation Department; it won’t cost you anything because you don’t need a lawyer.
But it’s better to avoid that encounter to begin with. So whether we’re talking about the financial cost of repairing pothole-damaged cars or the need to avoid accidents or reduce our awful DUI-death rate, the most important thing to remember when we’re driving is to put safety first.
You can’t always avoid potholes, but you can drive defensively. Slow down when the pavement is in bad shape, so you have plenty of time to see and drive around potholes and other road hazards. It’ll likely save you some money. It could save a life — possibly even your own.