12 Investigates: Richmond dishes out big bucks for pothole damage

12 Investigates: Richmond dishes out big bucks for pothole damage

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - A crater on Cary Street Road in 2013 was a monster pothole and it got the best of Michelle Campbell's car.

"I had to put in the shop and I had to use my rent money to get it out," said Campbell, who hit the crater. It took out both of her car's right side tires. She like several others filed a claim with Richmond for the damage.

That one pothole cost the City of Richmond $3,360. At least eight drivers were paid for damages from the single pothole. An open records request shows how often the City pays people's claims for pothole damage.

In 2014, there were 125 claims for vehicle damage. Richmond accepted 35 percent of them doling out $24,312.

Across the entire state, VDOT paid 60 drivers a total of $25,900 dollars in pothole damage claims on 42,000 square miles of roads -- about the same amount despite being nearly 700 times the size of Richmond.

"You can't help but question what's going on when you see those numbers," said watchdog Mike Thompson, president of the non-partisan Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy.

"You've got to wonder why. Is it easier to have a claim approved in Richmond than statewide? If so, why? Why's it cost more per pothole in the city than the state? Are the road deteriorating quicker? Is this the beginning of a problem that could become greater? There's a lot of those kinds of questions that you think would be natural management questions to be asked. It's our money being spent," said Thompson.

In 2013, which wasn't a bad winter, Richmond spent more on claims than VDOT did across the entire state: $13,180 versus $4,770.

The City contracts out all decisions on pothole claims to a company called CorVel, which Richmond pays $250,000 a year to handle all worker's compensation, auto and general liability claims.

VDOT gave us a two page list of criteria used to pay pothole claims.

The City simply said "if they knew about the pothole two days prior to the incident and didn't fix it, the claim is paid. If the city was not aware of the pothole, the claim is denied."

We asked city officials for an on camera interview, but we were only given this lengthy statement.

The City of Richmond's infrastructure, as so noted by the November 2011 audit by the City Auditors Office and the City Administration, has reconstruction needs. Currently, the City is providing some relief to the situation with a goal of attempting to pave more than 150 lane miles annually at a cost of nearly $10 million per year. This is a significant increase in the paving budget from recent years that had an average of $5 to 6 million budgeted per year.

The City of Richmond has the same characteristics of many older urban communities within the United States and a large number of potholes to deal with, particularly following the winter season. The infrastructure of an urban environment has to contend with more than just the stop and go of high volumes of vehicular traffic, but it also has to endure the constant excavation and compaction of various underground utility construction projects. These projects disturb the sub-base of the pavement infrastructure which can lead to cracking, depressions, and the worst case scenarios being sinkholes. The significance of the utility disturbance on urban streets is this same activity does not occur on State roads. The utilities typically are buried in the right-of-way, not in the road bed. Roads maintained by the State have a lower occurrence of pothole activity due to destabilization of the road base from utility breaches.

Through the City's annual pothole repair program, nearly 12,000 potholes are addressed each year. Therefore, we encourage City residents to please contact the 3-1-1 customer service division or submit request repairs to defects identified within the public right of way by clicking on the MPACT button on www.RichmondGov.com.

If you want to file a claim with VDOT you can go to this website: http://www.virginiadot.org/info/faq-potholes.asp

If drivers hit a pothole and experience damage to their vehicle, they have a legal right to submit a damage claim. Claims are investigated on a case-by-case basis. Investigators review the circumstances, the type and location of the pothole, if VDOT had been previously notified of the issue, and if crews had been given a reasonable amount of time to repair the pothole.

If you have questions about damage claims, contact VDOT's Customer Service Center at 1-800-FOR-ROAD (1-800-367-7623).

If you want to file a claim in Richmond you can go to this website: http://www.richmondgov.com/PublicWorks/StreetMaintenance.aspx

In the event your vehicle is damaged by a pothole you can file a damage claim through the City Attorney's office. You can reach that office by calling (804) 646-7940. An investigation will be conducted once your claim is filed. The results of that investigation will determine the outcome and resolution of your claim

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