Ka-thump! Ka-ching! Idaho AAA: Pothole vehicle damage to hit drivers' wallets

Posted at 12:38 PM, Feb 21, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-21 14:38:38-05

Spring is just around the corner, but vehicle damage and battered roads will be a costly -- and ongoing -- reminder to Idaho motorists and lawmakers of this year’s tough winter, according to a new AAA survey.

Drivers paid an estimated $3 billion in rust repairs each of the past five years, the result of liquid de-icers frequently used to combat slick and icy road conditions, the organization says.

Freezing temperatures and extensive flooding have created other problems for motorists’ wallets as well. Crumbling road surfaces form deep potholes that cause wheel damage and alignment issues. In 2016, nearly 30 million drivers paid up to $1,000 per incident to repair serious pothole damage.

“In severe weather, quick fixes focus on keeping traffic moving and protecting drivers,” says AAA Idaho spokesman Matthew Conde.  “As we survey the damage, it’s clear that the day of reckoning is upon us.”

Many state and local transportation departments have moved from traditional rock salt and sand options to more-effective liquid de-icers. “But because they remain in liquid form for so long, these chemicals can coat brake lines, exhaust systems, fuel tanks, electrical connections, and other vital vehicle components.  The affected material is either weakened or dissolved altogether,” Conde said.

When water and snow seep into cracked road surfaces, a continual process of freezing and thawing can trigger the formation of deep potholes. “Pothole damage can lead to steering wheel vibrations and other alignment issues that limit the safe operation of the vehicle, to say nothing of the costly tire replacement that could result from uneven wear,” Conde said.

The signs of rust and pothole damage should never be ignored.  Drivers with any of these issues should immediately take their vehicle to a trusted repair shop for a detailed inspection of vital engine parts, he added.

Idaho drivers will shoulder the cost of repairing their vehicles in the aftermath of recent winter weather, but an even bigger bill is about to come due.

In 2010, the Idaho Governor’s Task Force for transportation funding concluded that the Gem State faces a $262 million annual funding shortfall, just to provide basic maintenance for Idaho’s aging roads and bridges. “The existing infrastructure will eventually approach the end of its useful life,” Conde said.  “Long-term funding is a problem Idaho can no longer ignore.”

Legislative action in 2015 raised an additional $94 million in higher gas taxes and registration fees, but other equitable funding mechanisms can further address the critical need.

“This winter’s extensive snow, ice, and flood damage to Idaho’s interstates, state highways, and local roads and bridges should create a sense of urgency to address our crumbling infrastructure,” Conde said. “We ask policymakers to implement solutions that account for actual road usage and wear and tear -- and to proportionally assess fees to the various user groups.”