News: Pothole Paperwork, Politics Mean Rough Road For Tristate Drivers

Although the biggest winter storm to hit the area so far this season ended more than a month ago, people still are battling its effects -- like car damage caused by potholes on the Ronald Reagan Hig

Although the biggest winter storm to hit the area so far this season ended more than a month ago, people still are battling its effects — like car damage caused by potholes on the Ronald Reagan Highway.

The Court of Claims of Ohio, civil division, has reported that more than 200 claims have been received seeking reimbursement for damages done to vehicles from potholes statewide.

And more are expected.

But because of the actions of county and state officials, some Tristate drivers might still be confused about how to process their claims.

The Hamilton County Engineer's office, which is contracted by the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) for maintenance of county roads, had a verbal agreement with ODOT that it would process and review claims seeking reimbursement for damage done by potholes, said Ted Hubbard, chief deputy county engineer.

Even though the county has a contract with ODOT for maintenance, ODOT ultimately is responsible for those roadways.

"We were trying to keep the public from paying the $25 fee they would have to pay the court of claims for a similar review process," Hubbard said. "We had a discussion with ODOT, and they agreed that we would review the claim for free and make a recommendation back to them as to whether or not it would be reimbursed. Our intent was to save the public that $25 fee."

But the county does not have jurisdiction to make decisions about claims.

Instead, all claims must go through the state's Court of Claims.

Julie Wagner-Rucker, assignment commissioner for the Court of Claims, said that anyone seeking reimbursement for pothole damage must first fill out a complaint form and send in a $25 filing fee, which is set by the Ohio Revised Code.

"A major thing that is causing delays is that people are not filling out the forms correctly," she said. "If people have any questions they should call the nearest ODOT district."

Potholes are formed when water seeps under the road surface and temperatures drop rapidly freezing the water. The ice expands and breaks the surface. Cars can make the hole bigger by hitting the already weakened surface.

The city of Cincinnati hasn't paid any of about 60 claims it has received this year.

Bill Lawall, acting roadway services manager for Ohio Department of Transportation in District 8, said that six months before the January ice storm, there was only one complaint of a pothole in Hamilton County.

"Usually for our area, we average about three or four complaints at the highest during a winter month," Lawall said.

But this year, he said, there have been more than 30 claims sent in so far from Hamilton County drivers.

Nine of the claims, seeking reimbursement for damages such as a blown tire or a bent rim, are from potholes on Ronald Reagan Highway created during the January ice storm, he said. That pothole "hot spot" covered a five-mile stretch before road crews got out to patch the surface on Jan. 12. They had to close down one lane at a time to fix the shredded roadway, Lawall said.

"That was a rough road to begin with," he said. "I mean it wasn't to the point of falling apart until we got hit by the ice storm."

Lawall said that other claims are seeking reimbursement from damages done by potholes on Interstate 71 north of Kenwood Road and U.S. 27 in Colerain Township.

"Ronald Reagan (Highway) has definitely seen the most claims," he said. "But that doesn't mean you will definitely get reimbursed if you had hit a pothole there."

Lawall said it is tough to predict which claims will see reimbursement.

"The court could say that while we were out clearing the streets of the ice, we should have seen those potholes and done something about it," he said. "On the other hand, the court could say you didn't have time to get to the potholes because you were so busy clearing the streets."

In the meantime, Lawall said that ODOT and the county engineer's department are teaming up to fix the "rough area" of Ronald Reagan Highway between Galbraith Road and west of Interstate 71. Construction should begin later this year, he said.

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