Road projects can rack up millions from taxpayers for budgeted repairs and replacements, but what is the true cost of bad roads and other problems or mistakes the government is supposed to take care of?
Hawaii drivers are all too familiar with rough roadways.
“I saw a couple of potholes but because of the speed we were going and the traffic, there was no way to avoid it,” said driver Leah Benz. “I went right into that pothole and about a day and a half later, the tire went psshhhhh.”
When you see dips and bumps in the road, you might as well be seeing dollar signs.
“We refill them to the tune of 800 sometimes in any given week,” Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said. “But they pop out again after the next rain and then people drive through them, they damage their rims, they damage their alignment, they file claims.”
And the claims cost a lot.
Both the counties and state pay out to pothole victims — hundreds to thousands of dollars each — more than $100,000 for the state and Honolulu City and County combined over the past couple of years. State roads pay the lion’s share, but it’s big on the radar at Honolulu Hale too.
“If we don’t repave our roads, we’re going to have the damage that you’re covering right now, and the city pays that way,” Caldwell said. “Even if they don’t make claims, (for) many people’s cars, their alignment is affected, their tires are damaged. They never make a claim.”
Studies show bad roads in Hawaii cost every driver hundreds of extra dollars a year. One way or another, you’ll pay for these rough passages.
“Of course I wish they’d fix them a little quicker, but there are so many things that the money has to go to,” said West Oahu resident Larry Vaughan. “You’ve got all the other infrastructure. I keep hearing about all the sewers and everything, the water mains that are breaking, so I guess the only other solution would be raise our taxes and I don’t like that either.”
The state has ramped up road repairs by tens of millions in each of the past couple years. The city has repaved nearly 560 lane miles over the past year and a half, and aims to spend a lot more keeping up the pace.
“The city council right now is considering $130 million to $150 million so that we can really continue the acceleration of road repairs,” said Honolulu City Council member Ron Menor. “It’s basically a matter of setting priorities, and to me when it comes to road repairs, it needs to be given top priority. So in that regard, the money will be found by the city council.”
Bad roads aren’t the only thing causing big payouts by the city and state. The process of fixing them often leads to claims for vehicle damage from things like steel plates, even construction equipment mishaps (Honolulu: $9,475 in claims paid out 2012-14, state: $9,635 in claims paid).
Tree damage to cars and property has led to more than $55,000 in claims paid the past couple years (Honolulu: $24,140, state: $31,659).
Bad sidewalks equal big money, often due to bodily injuries, $25,019 combined.
“There’s upwelling, people trip and fall on them,” Caldwell said. “Some people say get rid of the trees. For me it’s a balance. We want to have trees, it’s about the greening of our city, but we need to do a better job of dealing with the cracks and those kinds of things.”
When you come across a weedwacker, get out of the way. There has been nearly $37,000 payouts for car damage (Honolulu: $4,133, state: $32,541).
“One it’s about being safe, the way the weedwacker is supposed to operate, if a vehicle is coming near, you have to stop,” Caldwell said. “It’s about just following the procedures and we ask our guys to please be careful and to remind themselves that there are people walking by and driving by and riding by.”
Other notable payouts on the city and state small-claims lists:
- Towing people who didn’t deserve it. One guy even got nearly $10,000 back when his wrongly towed car got sold at auction.
- City or state vehicle and personnel incidents cost nearly $20,000, including police and fire incidents, and garbage trucks bumping into cars or property.
- Lots of patients’ belongings, even hearing aids and dentures, are getting lost state at medical facilities, causing payouts nearing $30,000.
- Even state prisoners who’ve lost stuff, stayed too long or alleged injury got nearly $60,000.
But it’s the roads that few seem to mind paying more for.
“Yes, it’s worth paying to repair our roads,” Benz said, “because we can’t afford to keep affording to repair our tires.”