One of the harshest winters in recent memory produced a bumper crop of potholes this spring, and municipal road repair crews have been working to fill them as fast as the plants that produce the hot-patch material can crank it out. For cities like Schenectady, that hasn’t been fast enough: Too many major streets still resemble lunar landscapes.
Municipalities are liable for damages to a motorist’s car caused by a pothole that has been reported but not fixed within a “reasonable time.” The last thing the city should want is to have to pay for some motorist’s new tire, wheel or axle.
Curiously, the state is exempt from such liability if the damage occurs between Nov. 15 and May 1 — when else could potholes be expected to be a problem? — but local governments also get a break because the reporting requirements are somewhat picayune.
That is, they have to be made in writing. In Schenectady, notice must be addressed to Carl Olsen, commissioner of general services, either at City Hall, 105 Jay St., or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. A phone call to the Bureau of Service (382-5120) or to the state Department of Transportation pothole hotline (1-800-POTHOLE) might get the problem addressed sooner or later, but isn’t considered sufficient notice for motorists wanting to sue over damages, which can be substantial.
The city’s response to an admittedly bad pothole season could have been better. Mayor Gary McCarthy announced in mid-winter that only the deepest holes could be filled with cold patch, but there were plenty of deep, nasty ones on thoroughfares like Brandywine Avenue that got ignored then and still haven’t been filled — three weeks into hot patch season.
Perhaps in addition to asking residents to report them, city officials could get police, fire and other workers who do lots of cruising on city streets to report particularly problematic potholes so they can be fixed without further delay. Lord knows there are enough of them.