Potholes, they’re a familiar part of every driver’s commute here in the Bay Area.
Last June, we looked at how thousands of drivers are making the state pay for the potholes by filing claims to recoup repair costs for their vehicles damaged by rough roads. This is a process that is costing taxpayers in both repairs to roadways and to their personal vehicles.
Now, the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit has learned that despite these costs, it can take several months before Caltrans is able to repair a pothole after it has been reported.
Caltrans estimates that it should take 10 days on average for maintenance crews to fill a pothole identified by drivers through a service request.
But when we filed our own request complete with pictures and GPS coordinates, we found that doesn’t always happen. It took Caltrans more than six weeks to fill the potholes we found on Highway 101 in San Francisco.
Other drivers are documenting problems on roadways and experiencing even longer delays.
“I’ve been asking for over five years to get it fixed and they keep saying it’s in next budget,” one driver said on this Youtube clip. It was attached to his maintenance request asking for repairs along I-680 in Sunol.
Repairs were finally made in August.
The safety hazards created by potholes were made evident during a recent storm when a single pothole on Highway 4 in Pittsburg damaged over two dozen cars.
“It’s not safe for drivers out there. Everyone is getting into accidents,” Nisha Jethi told NBC Bay Area. She is one of 25 drivers who had their cars damaged by the pothole. The massive crater left her with a flat tire, two busted headlights, and a day of lost wages.
Jethi said she intends to add her name to the list of roughly 1,500 Bay Area drivers each year filing damage claims with the state.
Caltrans records show that the agency has paid more than a million dollars to Bay Area drivers filing claims since 2009.
Contra Costa County Supervisor Federal Glover represents District 5 in Pittsburg and sits on the Board of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, an agency that advises Caltrans on its transportation planning.
“Those are dollars that could be used for new roads and making sure the right kind of infrastructure is in place for safety,” Glover said.
“When you are paying out those types of claims, it is a waste.”
Caltrans has denied NBC Bay Area’s repeated requests to speak with a maintenance manager for this story.
Last summer, Public Affairs Director Traci Ruth explained that the agency is underfunded and unable to keep up with needed repairs.
“We have only 40-percent of the funds that are needed for us to maintain and rehabilitate our roadways,” Ruth said in July.
Caltrans has an annual maintenance budget of around $50 million to maintain 76,000 miles of local roadways.
Despite this funding, Caltrans acknowledges that the nine Bay Area counties are more neglected than almost any other area in California.
NBC Bay Area obtained Caltrans’ 2011 Level of Service Report, measuring how the agency responds to maintenance demands throughout the state.
According to the report, the Bay Area performs below the state average in almost every maintenance category including maintaining guardrails, travel ways, and bridges.
Drainage, highway lighting, and tree service were among the only maintenance categories where the level of service was at or above the state average.
“If there are potholes that are found or any road condition that puts people's safety at risk then the turnaround should be immediate,” Glover said.
While Caltrans would not allow us to speak with a maintenance manager, the agency reiterated the importance of safety in a statement:
Safety is our number one concern as we repair guardrail, median barriers, and potholes on California’s busy highways.
During storms, maintenance crews are busy patrolling the highways clearing drains, removing fallen trees, and filling potholes to help keep the roadways open and safe.
Records show that there had been several requests for service along Highway 4 in Pittsburg earlier this year. That was before Jethi’s car was damaged from a pothole, which was made worse by heavy rain the day the 25 cars were taken out.
“It’s their problem. If something is messed up in your house, it’s your responsibility to fix it,” Jethi said.
The pothole that damaged Jethi’s car has since been filled. She says she’ll be sending the bill for her damages to Sacramento.