October 25, 2012 - It’s Thursday, you are on your commute home from work and you’re tired from a long day. You decide that traffic is especially bad this evening so you are going to outsmart everyone by maneuvering your way through the lesser known local routes. You take a left onto a residential street—it looks familiar and you’re still pretty sure you know where you are, but you are checking for recognizable street signs just to make sure. Then, out of the corner of your eye you see it…you try to avoid it but it’s too late. All you can do is brace for impact. BOOM! Your car dips down hard to the right and the steering wheel rattles in your grip. Yup, you just hit the mother of all potholes.
Obviously not every pothole is that dramatic, but we’ve all had our encounter with the Grand Canyon of road craters. It’s a terrible feeling, isn’t it? It makes you cringe, makes your heart race, and more than anything, it infuriates you. There’s not even a person to yell or make obscene gestures at. You just have to grit your teeth and bare it. There’s that moment when you get yourself so worked up that you’re convinced you’re going to go home and write a letter to your elected official and complain—even ask for reparations. Let’s face it though, by the time we get home most of us have lost our fire and even if we haven’t we spend about 5 minutes on the internet trying to figure out we should write the letter to before we give up for good.
I’m here to tell you that you have every right to be mad. Potholes are a problem and they are costing drivers lots of money every year. How much? According to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), as a nation we spend $67 billion dollars in repairs and operating costs as a result of potholes. That works out to about $335 per driver, per year! That’s some serious cash.
The most aggravating thing about the results of the AASHTO study is that they’ve found that it is actually much cheaper to maintain roads than it is to repair them. AASHTO estimates that the cost of maintaining a road is about 7 times cheaper than paying to rebuild it. BOOM! That statistic should hit you harder than that pothole did. The government is spending 7 of your tax dollars, when they could be spending just 1. Why? Because maintaining roads doesn’t create the same spectacle as building new ones. If your elected official spends government money to maintain roads, so that day in and day out they stay exactly the same, no one is really going to notice are they? But if that same elected official uses government money to fix the pothole that’s been wreaking havoc on your suspension for the last 3 years, you’re probably going to give him your vote next time he’s up for election. That is a gross oversimplification of the issue, but it doesn’t make it any less true.
I think it’s great that organizations like AASHTO are blowing the lid off these important driving issues. If the roads were better, it would not only save drivers money but it would reallocate tax dollars for more important issues, and it could even save lives. Poorly maintained roads cause accidents, accidents result in deaths—plain and simple. You’re mad now because your Camry steers like a cruise ship, but what about if you or one of your family members is seriously injured the next time you drive through a really bad pothole? I think we should all go home and write that letter—we’ve put it off long enough.