Maryland’s “Year of the Pothole”

With the combination of harsh winter weather and billions in reductions to local roadways funding, Marylanders face 2014 as “The Year of the Pothole.”  The combination of harsh winter weather and severe funding cutbacks have left roadway maintenance in a crisis situation, and roadway surface problems loom as potentially the worst in memory.

Baltimore-based radio station WYPR recently ran a summary of metropolitan counties, discovering that all have exceeded budgeted reserves for snow removal.  From the article:

Snow budgets from the state to local governments have been busted at least twice over this season.

Most jurisdictions were also low on rock salt for the roads and were expecting deliveries in the next couple of days.  Frederick County officials said their salt supply was “extremely low.”  They are working with the state Department of General Services to secure more.

All those jurisdictions will have to go into their contingency funds to cover the additional costs. And the bad weather may not be over yet.

Further coverage spans papers in every part of the state:

Washington Post: Potholes Infest D.C. Region as Relentless Winter Chews up the Roadways

WBAL TV: Road Crews Work To Patch Potholes Across State

The depletion in local resources simply to remove snowfall lands on county budgets that are still reeling from long term cuts to state Highway User Revenues. County governments receive some $300 million less in annual transportation funding than in past years, following state actions to eliminate roughly 90% of most counties’ former share of state taxes on motor fuel and vehicle purchases.

A recent Associated Press story includes comments from roadway officials in many jurisdictions, talking about how potholes inevitably arise from scaled-back maintenance and difficult weather patterns. From their coverage:

“What people have to understand is you can’t have a pothole without first having a crack in the pavement surface,” says engineer Larry Galehouse, director of the National Center for Pavement Preservation, a quasi-government entity affiliated with Michigan State University. “Agencies have been cash-strapped for a number of years, and now it’s all coming home to roost.”

And despite all the advances in patching materials and equipment in recent years, engineers say that until someone ponies up, it’s going to remain a case of patch as patch can.

“If you’ve got a pavement in poor condition that’s got a lot of alligator cracking … where water is getting into the pavement and freezing and thawing, it’s going to break up the structure,” says Kevin J. Haas, a traffic investigations engineer with the Oregon Department of Transportation in Salem. “It’s just the law of sciences and physics and thermodynamics and whatever other laws you want to throw in there.”

The Washington Post recently ran an online special item on “How Potholes Happen.”

An analysis from TRIP, a national transportation research group, suggests that the citizen costs to widespread potholes are massive:

Rough roads are more than just a nuisance for motorists. Driving on deteriorated roads costs the average urban driver $377 annually – a total of $80 billion nationwide.

In areas with the roughest roads, drivers lose as much as $800 each year. These costs include accelerated vehicle depreciation, increased maintenance, additional fuel consumption and tire wear.

The full report from TRIP can be found online.

The Department of Legislative Services included discussion on Highway User Revenues as a part of its 2014 Issue Papers:

MML Priorities, MACo Initiatives

Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties