Hitting a pothole usually means nothing more than an uncomfortable ride, but when it causes real damage to your vehicle, New Jersey and New York have systems in place to pay for the repairs.
But winning a damage claim isn’t always so easy.
For a driver to be eligible for cash, the state must have prior notice about the specific pothole in question. As Gary Spanedda discovered, even when a complaint has been lodged, there can be roadblocks to reimbursement.
In 2012, Spanedda’s BMW suffered damage after hitting a pothole in the northbound lane of New Jersey’s Palisades Interstate Parkway.
“I hit one of the potholes and it instantly blew the tire out,” said Spanedda. About a year earlier, Spanedda says he warned both the Palisades Interstate Park Commission and the New Jersey Department of Transportation about dangerous potholes in the same area.
About four months after the accident, an investigator with the New Jersey Treasury Department wrote to Spanedda:
“Our investigation has revealed that the Palisades Interstate Parkway never received any prior complaints of potholes in the area in question. In light of the above, we must respectfully decline voluntary payment.”
Take a trip along the parkway and it is evident the portions of the road are littered with patchwork asphalt and filler. Indeed, a letter authored by James Hall, executive director of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission, lamented the fact that the parkway hasn’t been repaved in 15 years.
“It is sad the road must reach such a crisis condition before funding is provided,” wrote Hall.
In an interview with the I-Team, Hall predicted the roadway’s poor condition may lead to many more blown tires.
"I think certainly as the road continues to deteriorate that over time there will be more complaints and more claims for damage," Hall said.
Martin Robins, director emeritus of the Rutgers University Voorhees Transportation Center, said part of the reason for disrepair on the Palisades Parkway is dwindling gas revenue. With more fuel-efficient vehicles hitting the roads, the state has fewer dollars in its Transportation Trust Fund.
“There are consequences and this little issue of the Palisades Parkway is kind of the tip of the iceberg,” Robins said.
Without a new source of revenue for transportation, Robins said, “we’re going to continue to have problems like this cropping up."
Beau Duffy, a spokesman for the New York DOT, said pothole damage that occurs between mid-November and May 1 is exempt from reimbursement rules. During the rest of the year there are no exact standards for what qualifies as “prior notice” needed to qualify for reimbursement.
“Each issue has its own set of facts that must be considered,” he said.
A spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Treasury did not provide details on how much notice the state needs or what kind of location information is necessary in order to meet the “prior notice” standard for pothole damage claims in New Jersey.