By Jim Newell
Ah, late winter in Michigan, spring on the foreseeable horizon. With the warming weather and then the quick, unpredictable drops in temperatures Michigan roads are undergoing the freeze-thaw effect.
With that comes potholes – the Michigan roadway state plant, it seems. But is there any recourse for drivers whose cars are damaged by potholes?
Road Commission of Oakland County Chairman Eric Wilson said the road commisison is taking additional steps to address potholes this year, including:
• Extended shifts for pothole crews. This includes some crews starting as early as 3 or 4 a.m. to work on roads that are lighted. Other crews will work into the evening. Crews will also continue to work weekends.
• Keep part-time, temporary winter employees (hired to help out with plowing and salting) on for an extended period into the spring to help continue to patch potholes.
• Extend the hours that the part-time, temporary workers are able to work so they are available more often to patch potholes.
“We appreciate the public’s patience as we work to patch the potholes,” Wilson added. “As the ground thaws and stabilizes, we’ll see the number of potholes drop significantly. In the meantime, we’ll continue to do everything we can.”
Wilson said pothole problems would be much worse this year if RCOC had not resurfaced or reconstructed approximately 80 miles of the roads over the last three years. “Many of the roads that we resurfaced were the worst pothole roads.”
Drivers whose cars are damaged by a pothole can try to file a claim with the road commission at www.rcocweb.org/276/File-a-Damage-Claim. That website also contains a link to the Michigan Department of Transportation claim form or by calling 248-451-0001.
To file a claim with Oakland County, people will have to call or email the RCOC Department of Customer Service (DCS) at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 877-858-4804 to get a DCS Identification Number.
After that, they can fill out the online form and include any relevant information: where the pothole was that damaged the vehicle; copies of car repair bills/invoices paid for out-of-pocket expenses; proof of Michigan No-Fault Automobile Insurance for Mini-Tort Claims; photographs of damage or incident scenes (optional); diagrams (optional); police reports (optional).
Once a claim is received it will be assigned within 30 days to the RCOC third party administrator for review and determination, which can take up to 90 days.
While Orion Township doesn’t track the number of calls it gets relating to road and pothole complaints, Supervisor Chris Barnett has said that it is significant. “Roads are the number one thing, from January to May, that I get complaints on,” he said.
Township Director of Public Services Jeff Stout said the township takes residents’ calls but is limited in its action.
“We take their calls and give them a couple of options. We do what we can and take their complaints and steer them in the right direction,” Stout said. “We recommend they contact the road commission through their website or call them directly.
“If there is a major problem, the township calls the road commission yard on Clarkston Road directly to inform them,” Stout said. “They are responsive. Whenever we give a call to their yard foreman they respond. There’s no lag time. And with the freeze-thaw cycle we have going on this time of year, they’re extremely busy.”
Orion Township doesn’t have a road millage and does not collect, or budget, any money for roads.
“The township doesn’t own any roads. We literally have no patching equipment,” Stout said.
Village of Lake Orion
Village Manager Joe Young said the Lake Orion Department of Public Works has been out on the streets taking care of potholes.
“We’ve monitored the roads and gone through a lot of cold patch already,” Young said. “We go through the streets on a regular basis and address potholes on a regular basis.”
No one has reported a flat tire or vehicle damage from a village pothole yet, Young said. “We haven’t had any, thank goodness. We’re not being negligent in getting those fixed when we find out about them.”
If somebody did want to file a damage claim with the village, the village would turn those claims over to its insurance company to make a determination, Young said.
Anyone in the village can report a pothole problem by emailing Young at email@example.com or by calling the village office at 248-693-8391.
“The true root cause of the severe pothole problem is Michigan’s decades-long road-funding crisis that has crippled road-agency efforts to repair roads. However, we are taking every step within our power to address this challenge,” Wilson said. “We know that this situation is creating a burden for motorists, and we are doing everything we can to alleviate that.”
Additionally, the road commission is committed to spending every penny of additional funding it receives if the state Legislature approves the $175 million in additional one-time road funding this year as proposed by the governor. “That would mean $7 million for RCOC,” Wilson said. “And, we’ll put all of that money directly into new road surfaces this year.”