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The Sun editorial: Senator calls for help for disgruntled drivers

HAMBURG — It’s a tale as old as time. The snow flies, we get buried under heaps of white stuff for months on end, and our cars take a beating from the endless potholes polka-dotting our streets.

When the snow finally melts, even more cringeworthy craters rear their ugly heads, exposed by the lack of snow and ice on the roadways.

It is a condition many of us have just grown to expect and accept. Most of us have become great navigators. Forget dodging a wrench; Western New Yorkers, can you dodge a pothole?

“I can’t believe you missed that!” passengers chortle, as drivers careen around and above potholes. “Were you trying to hit that?” they groan, when a tire slams into a hole, causing the car and its occupants to shutter.

Hamburg’s southbound entrance to Route 219 has thankfully had some work done; earlier this year, it was a treacherous stretch of unnavigable roadway. If you could not avoid passing over it, you basically closed your eyes and prayed your way through. Although it has undergone somewhat of a face-lift, drivers should still be warned about what awaits them on that stretch of the highway.

But that is not the only street in Western New York that has taken a heavy beating. Nearly every piece of roadway – well-traveled or not – is currently pitted with craters that rattle the bones and set the teeth on edge. Sometimes you can miss them, and sometimes you don’t have a prayer.

While most people grumble a little bit about the condition of the local roadways, we all acknowledge how hard our local road crews are working, and understand that the potholes are nobody’s fault.

Spring is on its way – theoretically – but area street crews have a long, hard haul ahead of them, to tackle all of the roads that need some TLC.

Susan Surdej of the New York State Department of Transportation has warned that there is no quick way to get the condition righted.

“We can’t get to a long-term fix until the asphalt plants open in the springtime and we can get a hot-mix asphalt, which we get a better adhesion from,” she said.

Thankfully, the conditions have come to the attention of some local politicians (probably because this is a plight they themselves cannot avoid), who are doing their best to get the roads smooth, once again.

According to New York Sen. Tim Kennedy’s office, some experts have called this year the “worst pothole season in decades.”

I second that. The potholes, on top of the black ice and slush we already have to navigate, make driving in Western New York a serious hazard.

“As Western New Yorkers, we’re accustomed to the woes winter weather can bring, but Old Man Winter has packed a particularly hard punch this year,” Kennedy said.

“Towns, cities and counties across New York state are struggling to keep up with repairs for aging roads and bridges, and this winter has made the situation worse,” he added. “Massive potholes, the reminders of the severity of this winter, are scattered all across our roadways, waiting to wreak havoc on another vehicle. Repair bills have been piling up on local drivers, and the cost of fixing potholes and restoring roads is straining local municipalities. New York state needs to step in and provide relief.”

National transportation research group TRIP recently updated its numbers to report that the average Buffalo driver can expect to pay an average of nearly $1,500 in vehicle repairs, due to bad roads. I put my car in an East Concord ditch last week, so I can vouch for at least part of that figure.

“We’re calling for increased state investment in local roads and bridges to help towns and cities pay for road repairs and strengthen infrastructure, and we’re pushing for new legislation that will help protect drivers from the destruction potholes can cause,” Kennedy said.

“Our proposals will help drivers avoid potholes, better prepare the state to respond quickly to troublesome road conditions and provide New York’s taxpayers with a path to pursue compensation from the state, when car damages are caused by egregious road conditions on state highways.”

Kennedy reported that, after many Western New Yorkers complained about vehicular damage due to road conditions, the state DOT “said that the current law governing the state’s liability exempted them from covering repair costs for damages caused on state roads, during winter months.”

That means that, unless you are willing to hibernate from October – April, you must approach New York’s roadways with a “drive at your own risk” mentality, and assume responsibility for all consequences.

State law currently says that any damage suffered by any vehicle between Nov. 15 and April 30 will not be covered by the state, “no matter how unreasonable or egregious the road conditions,” Kennedy said.

So the senator has asked that new legislation be drawn up, providing drivers with protections from “massive potholes, dislodged concrete and other deplorable road conditions on state highways.” Cars that are damaged by “unreasonable road conditions” at any time of the year could be repaired on the state’s dime. Kennedy said that this would ensure that “New York state taxpayers do not have to pay out-of-pocket for damages caused by an affirmative act of negligence by the state or similarly unreasonable defect on a state highway.”

In the meantime, ridiculously sized potholes can be reported to the NYSDOT pothole hotline at 1-800-768-4653.
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