Drivers unlikely to be reimbursed for pothole damage | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Drivers unlikely to be reimbursed for pothole damage

U.S. 50 has a number of large potholes, like these by Lakeview Commons.

The freeze-thaw cycle is tough on roads — and unsurprisingly, this wet and snowy winter is wreaking havoc on South Shore streets.

Continually wet conditions are inhibiting the ability of city, county and state crews to temporarily patch potholes before applying a permanent fix in the spring.

South Shore drivers are not pleased.

Last week, South Lake Tahoe resident Kelly Flanigan blew out a tire on a pothole on Pioneer Trail. In addition to paying $500 for a new tire, Flanigan said she ended up missing work because of the situation.

Depending on the jurisdiction of the road, drivers can file a claim against the city, county or state for reimbursement — but there's no guarantee that it will be accepted.

"Anyone can make a claim against the county for money damages they believe are caused by the county, its operations or an employee of the county," explained Jon Hendrickson, claims administrator for El Dorado County.

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But, he said, given the extreme weather circumstances this year, the likelihood of a reimbursement is small.

"Extreme weather conditions have caused widespread compromise of road surface integrity countywide, circumstances under which the Government Code does not necessarily impose liability," said Hendrickson. "While all claims are examined on their own merits, I would caution against any expectation that a claim filing will result in reimbursement for damage caused by potholes."

Rather, he suggested auto insurance might treat this as a type of collision.

Meg Ragonese of Nevada Department of Transportation echoed this point. "If a citizen feels they have incurred damage relating to maintenance or operation of a state road, they can submit a claim form," said Ragonese. "By law, the state is not responsible for damages due to acts of nature or the actions of individuals on the road."

Officials from Douglas County, the city of South Lake Tahoe, and Caltrans made similar statements. Claim forms can be found on each agency's respective website.

Frustration over road conditions on the South Shore is not a new sentiment.

In November's election, a ½-percent sales tax increase was on the ballot for South Lake Tahoe residents with the option to put money toward roads, housing or facilities. Increasing the tax from 8 to 8.5 percent would raise an estimated $2.5 million annually.

Though the increase did not pass, the results from the three advisory votes provided some insight on where a majority of voters would like to see money spent in the community — roads.

Back in October, then-Mayor Pro Tem Austin Sass told the Tribune the issue with roads in the community has to do with poor foundations.

"The majority of the city was initially dirt roads. At some point they oiled the roads so dirt wouldn't kick up and things stayed in place. After that, they paved directly on that rather than putting a proper foundation on the roads," said Sass. Sass was in favor of the sales tax increase going toward roads, and explained that there has never been a line item in the budget for road rehabilitation since the city was incorporated.

"There has been money for pothole improvements and for cracks, but there was never any money put into the budget and spent on road rehabilitation in 50 years," said Sass.

Money raised from the gas tax goes toward road maintenance, but with lower prices at the pump and more fuel-efficient vehicles on the market, that revenue has gone down.

"We have a $31-million backlog of road maintenance," said Sass.

Revisiting the subject with Sass in his new position as mayor, he said he does not know how they can go beyond crack and pothole repair without a tax.

"You're talking about $2.5 to $3 million a year to start a long-term road rehabilitation project where you tear up the roads and redo them like they should have been done to begin with," said Sass.

Sass said there is not enough money in the budget unless they make other cuts, which they have already done in departments like police and fire. According to Sass, other funds are tax-specific, and the city does not have the authority to put them toward other projects.

"What do you get rid of? I don't know how to do it without a tax," said Sass, adding that the city is discussing whether or not they will create another tax measure for roads to be voted on next November.

Former City Councilmember JoAnn Conner has been vocal on social media about her disapproval of the city's money management.

"The city does not need more money, they need to learn to be far more responsible with what they have," wrote Conner on Facebook, specifically pointing to the airport renovations — which council awarded just under $630,000 for back in June — as a poor choice.

"It is time for the taxpayers to really start watching our elected officials and high level employees to see where they are spending our hard earned dollars," she added.

Though the solution to road rehabilitation on city roads has yet to be seen, Caltrans is slated to begin another project on U.S. 50 this spring.

"This spring we are starting a project from the 'Y' to Trout Creek Bridge, and that will be the last section in highway in town left to tackle," said Steve Nelson, Caltrans District 3 public information officer.

The $56-million project will widen the roadway to provide 6-foot shoulders for bike lanes; replace traffic signs, curbs, gutters and sidewalks; and improve pavement cross slope. Storm water runoff improvement will also be made.

The project is expected to be finished in the winter of 2019.

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