MONTPELIER — Drivers whose vehicles have fallen victim to potholes on Vermont roads have a potential remedy, but officials say it’s a high bar to clear for compensation.
Many roads are in disrepair due to this past winter’s freeze-thaw cycle, which officials say has been particularly rough on roads.
There’s also a lack of funding to fix them.
The Vermont Agency of Transportation recently told the town of Marshfield a troubled patch of Route 2 likely wouldn’t be paved until 2021 at the earliest because of a lack of funds. This came after the town told the state that drivers had to swerve into the opposite lane to avoid the large potholes that have formed there.
Drivers whose vehicles suffer damage from potholes can take steps to seek compensation. First, the driver needs to figure out who is responsible for maintaining the road by checking with the municipality where the damage occurred.
If the road is maintained by the state, the driver can file an insurance claim using forms on the Office of Risk Management website or by calling 802-828-2899. Once the claim is filed, a liability adjuster will contact the driver, according to the website, to make a determination.
The process is similar on the municipal side, with the driver contacting the municipality and filing a claim with the town’s or city’s insurance company. The vast majority of municipalities in the state use insurance through the Vermont League of Cities and Towns.
Joseph Damiata, VLCT’s director of risk management services, said a driver will be compensated if the municipality is proven negligent.
“They have to really prove that the municipality hasn’t made an effort to fix (a pothole) once it’s known to them,” Damiata said.
Towns can’t completely fix potholes until the weather warms up because the asphalt plants they use for paving are closed in winter.
“There’s nothing they can do. It’s part of the weather of Vermont that causes this,” Damiata said.
He said municipalities must show they’re doing their best to keep on top of potholes, which seems to be the case: Since Jan. 1, VLCT has received 57 claims for vehicles damaged due to road conditions. None have been paid out so far, Damiata said, and while some are pending, most have been denied.
“We take each claim seriously, investigate each case, and, so far, it appears that Vermont municipalities are doing everything they can do to address potholes on their roadways,” he said.
VLCT often gets multiple claims for the same pothole before the municipality has a chance to try and patch it or post a warning about it, he said.
Steve Mackenzie, the city manager in Barre, said the city typically sees between three to six such claims a year, most dealing with potholes. He said road crews can use cold patch, but it doesn’t last long.
“For the next four to six weeks, we, like every other municipality, are going to be living with potholes. The unfortunate reality is the cyclical nature of the weather, both in temperature and precipitation,” Mackenzie said. “It’s a battle to the point where we can get through to warmer temperatures and put down asphalt.”