Musician Steve Humerickhouse was on his way to rehearsal at Concordia College in St. Paul last week. He hit a sour note on the way when he plunged his 2013 KIA Optima — a vehicle he’d owned for just two weeks and driven just 195 miles — into a giant pothole on the ramp from Franklin Avenue to eastbound Interstate 94 in Minneapolis.
He was towed to Bobby and Steve’s Auto World on Washington Avenue where he paid $247 to get his front passenger side tire fixed. He had plenty of company, too, as four other drivers encountered the same hazard that he describes as being a couple of feet in diameter and extending from the curb into the lane.
“I didn’t see it coming,” he said. “It was very loud, like something hit my car. They [the technicians] thought I hit a nail because of the puncture-type wound.”
Potholes large and small can do a number on a vehicle, and on one’s wallet, too, said Allen Sando, operations leader at Bobby and Steve’s. Common damage includes bent wheels, tie rods, ball joints and cars that are knocked out of alignment. Repair bills can run hundreds of dollars, he said.
“They wreak havoc on things,” Sando said.
Sando said five to 10 people a day have been coming in, and he’s expecting to see lots more as pothole season peaks in March and April.
Last year’s mild winter helped mitigate the number of potholes, but with more snow and ice this year, “it remains to be seen how bad it will be,” said Mike Kennedy, street maintenance superintendent for the Minneapolis Public Works Department.
The city has crews out making temporary fixes until permanent repairs can be made in the summer, but since potholes can develop overnight or in just a few hours, it’s like “chasing a losing battle.”
Motorists have options before paying out of pocket. Drivers who feel that a city, county or state agency is to blame for a pothole can file a claim. In Minneapolis, drivers must show proof that the city was at fault. Claims are reviewed and approved or denied by the city’s Risk Management and Claims division.
On state roads, drivers should fill out an online pothole reporting form before requesting a claim form from MnDOT, said claims specialist Jolene Servatius, of MnDOT
“We only pay claims in case of negligence,” meaning MnDOT was aware of the crack but did not get it repaired in “a reasonable amount of time.” Last year the agency had 60 claims and paid out “about five percent,” Servatius said. “We encourage drivers to report potholes to prevent damage to their vehicles.”
Drivers can file a claim with their insurance company, but that might not be prudent, said Mike Orn, a State Farm agent in Andover. That counts as a single-car accident and could affect future insurance rates, he said. Many factors play into that — prior claims, claim amount and longevity with the carrier — but saving $200 now isn’t worth it if rates will rise in the future. In all cases, it’s best to take pictures of the pothole, if it’s safe to do so, and report it immediately, officials say.
“Call your agent and see if there is an opportunity,” Orn said. “There might be an angle you have not thought of.”
Humerickhouse said he plans to file a claim in hopes of getting his $247 back. Even if he’s unsuccessful, at least “I got to see a beautiful moonrise,” he said.
Follow news about traffic and commuting at The Drive on startribune.com. Got traffic or transportation questions, or story ideas? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, tweet @stribdrive or call Tim Harlow at 612-673-7768.