Potholes: City to expand battle against perilous roads

Mar 07, 2011

Navigating the minefield of bone-jarring potholes on Indianapolis streets requires the skills of a stunt driver. Or, perhaps, a New York City cabbie.

But for those desiring a tad less excitement on city streets, help may soon be on the way.

After a frigid winter that included a rare ice storm, Indianapolis is stepping up its annual assault on chuckholes. Beginning Monday, four private contractors will expand public works crews' asphalt-filling firepower, Mayor Greg Ballard said Friday.

And a local company has agreed to start production of "hot asphalt" a month early. That blend is denser than the usual winter "cold mix" and provides a longer-lasting repair that won't be washed out in a heavy storm.

Steve Quick, president of Local 725 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said the city workers who have tackled both snowplowing and pothole patching agreed to work with the contractors -- for the first time in memory -- because they need the help.

"I'm not sure Indianapolis has ever been more ready for spring," Ballard said during a news conference announcing the plan.

And commuters have never been more ready for a smoother ride.

Expanded assault

The city said at least 40 more workers will be on pothole duty for the next month, thanks to the hiring of Freije Asphalt Paving, Globe Asphalt Paving, Ohab Property Management and Brookfield Sand and Gravel, all in Indianapolis. Another contractor will do spot-checks of their work.

The city has awarded five contracts, including three to Freije, and is finalizing a sixth. Each is worth $80,000 to $100,000, Department of Public Works spokeswoman Kara Brooks said.

Even with the help, city officials said, it might take until May to gain the upper hand.

On Monday, regional paving contractor Rieth-Riley Construction Co. will open its two Indianapolis plants nearly a month early, at the city's request.

Company manager John Wischmeyer said the city's pricing contract won't change, since the pothole operation is expected to keep volume high. And city road repaving projects can start earlier than usual.
Repair shops busy

Tony Phelps, owner of Tony's Tire Service, 6875 W. Washington St., said he's fixing about six to eight cars a day with damage caused by potholes, a faster pace than last year.

"They are plenty mad when they come in, too," he said. "About the only thing they can do is take pictures and argue with the government."

Phelps said about half the cars have only tire damage, but some need wheels repaired or struts and front-end alignments fixed, which is more costly.

Lloyd Shane, a mechanic at Southside Tire, 4001 Carson Ave., said he can barely keep up.

"I've a got a phone in one hand, a drill in another" for the lug nuts, he said. "It's quite a rush."

Who's liable for damage?

Liability is a tricky question. The city or the state may be liable, depending on who has responsibility for the street or highway -- and whether the pothole had been reported before the damage occurred.

"If the pothole has not been reported and the city has not had ample time to fix it, then you won't get your claim paid," said Charlie Vaught, a claims advocate for Indianapolis-based Gregory & Appel Insurance.

Last year, the city received 603 pothole-related tort claims and paid on 106 of them, totaling $34,646, according to spokeswoman Molly Deuberry. So far this year, the city has received 207 pothole claims -- ahead of last year's pace -- and is still processing them.

Local insurance agencies say any uptick in pothole-related claims this year hasn't been drastic.

"I don't think it's as large as if you have hail damage and phones are ringing off the hook, but I do think anyone driving around can certainly see the potholes," said Steve Appel, a vice president for Gregory & Appel. "And we welcome the mayor's assault."

The average insurance claim for pothole-related damage: $150 to $200.

Filing a claim

If you think the city or state was negligent, you have 180 days to submit a claim for damage in writing.

But as Vaught said, keep in mind that the government agency isn't liable if it wasn't aware of the pothole. After one is reported, the city considers seven days a reasonable time to fill it.

For information about claims for damage sustained on a city street, go to www.indy.gov/eGov/City/OCC/Litigation/Pages/tort.aspx.

For damage from a pothole on a state road, interstate or highway, call the Indiana Department of Transportation at (317) 232-5533 and request a tort claim form.