From cracks to craters: Here’s what to do when encountering a pothole on Pennsylvania’s roads

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By Ashley Adams

March 6, 2024

Encountering a pothole on a Pennsylvania road is a daily occurrence. Here’s what you need to know about reporting them and filing a claim for damages caused by them.

Potholes. It seems like every Pennsylvania road has them and we all complain about them. The pothole problem has not gone unnoticed outside of the commonwealth. President Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure bill dedicated $4.4 billion to fixing 7,540 miles of Pennsylvania highway in poor condition.

But do you know why our roads are riddled with them and what to do if one causes serious damage to your car?

Potholes are a fact of life in Pennsylvania thanks to what’s called a freeze/thaw cycle.

In the commonwealth, daily temperatures can fluctuate between freezing and mild during the winter months. After precipitation, either rain or snow, the water seeps into the soil below the roadway. When it gets colder, the precipitation freezes and the ground expands, pushing the road up. Then, as the weather warms, the precipitation melts, and a gap is left between the road and the ground below it. When a vehicle drives over it, the road cracks, falls into the gap, and creates a pothole.

So, winters with a lot of precipitation and changes in temperature result in more potholes. Sounds like a typical Pennsylvania winter.

Here’s what you should do if you encounter a large pothole, who to call, and who to report damages to.

Who to call

Every winter, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation budgets millions of dollars for maintenance, including salting and plowing roadways. With the money that’s left over, PennDOT works on fixing potholes.

PennDOT can only fix potholes if they know about them. Drivers are encouraged to report potholes on state-owned roadways by calling 1-800-FIX-ROAD or visiting customercare.penndot.gov. When reporting a pothole, it helps to be as specific as possible. If you can, note the county, municipality, street name, and/or route number. Descriptions of familiar landmarks that could help PennDOT locate the problem area are also encouraged.

If it isn’t a state-owned road, you’ll have to contact the local municipality’s public works department.

How to find out who owns the road

PennDOT maintains a map of all the roadways in the state and designates whether they are expressways, toll roads, multi-lane highways, traffic routes, state maintained roads and bridges and local roads. Municipal boundary lines including state, county, township, city and borough are displayed.

If the PennDOT map is too confusing, you can always contact the local municipality or county to find out if it’s a state road or township road, or contact PennDOT and they will tell you as well.

How to report vehicle damage

There is action you can take should your car sustain damage from a pothole on a state road. You can file an insurance claim against the commonwealth with the Bureau of Finance and Risk Management (FARM), which is responsible for determining if a claim should be paid. (FARM is not associated with PennDOT, which maintains Pennsylvania’s roads). On non-state roads, it depends on where you are. In Allegheny County, you can file a claim directly with the county. In Philadelphia, you can file a claim with the city.

While filing a claim is a pretty straightforward process, getting reimbursed for damages can be tricky. Typically, these entities only claim responsibility for damages if they’re aware of a pothole and don’t fix it in a timely manner. So the road to reimbursement can involve navigating some red tape. Reaching out to your state representative’s office to help navigate that red tape is always an option in those instances.

Author

  • Ashley Adams

    In her 16 years in the communications industry, Ashley Adams has worn many hats, including news reporter, public relations writer, marketing specialist, copy editor and technical writer. Ashley grew up in Berks County and has since returned to her roots to raise her three children.

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