A couple of months back, nursing eight broken ribs from a farcical accident involving a sled, a 10-year-old kid made of rubber, and yours truly, I returned to Penn Station from a can't-miss day trip to Washington, D.C., feeling relieved. I had survived the excursion without too many jolts or embarrassing grimaces.
All that was left was the hourlong drive home.
As a PR person, I’m always thinking of ways to paint a scene, so when I hit the pothole on 34th Street, just east of 11th Avenue, a thought naturally popped into my head: New York City has potholes deep enough to swallow tanks. Actual Russian tanks were then perched on Ukraine’s border preparing to attack, so I guiltily pushed away that hyperbole and concentrated, instead, on getting some O2 back into the lungs.
That blown tire, my first ever on a run-flat, turned out to be a bargain at around $300 to replace. The next two, which happened a week later on a ramp in the Citi Field area as I was driving back from Garden City — I missed an exit in the dark and planned to loop back onto the highway heading in the opposite direction — cost me three days without a car and around $1,400. Apparently that’s what two new wheel frames and run-flats and a car realignment costs, even at a discount tire joint. I’ve been a basket case behind the wheel ever since, driving down cratered roads like a slalom skier. Long Islanders understand.
If one harbors any hostility toward government, a cavernous pothole will surely bring it out. First comes the jarring part — baboom! — then comes the Charlie Brown cloud of punctuation expletives, loosely translated as: “We pay the highest taxes in America and they can’t even fix a blankety-blank hole in the road!” That’s followed by the “why-do-I-still live-here?” thinking. It’s a fast mental spiral from fear to rage to exasperation.
It’s not just me. New York State has the third-highest number of pothole complaints per capita in America after Rhode Island and Hawaii, according to the national transportation nonprofit TRIP (it’s not all about cold weather, apparently). But lots of states are dropping the ball.
TRIP announced in February that 40% of U.S. roads are now considered to be in poor or mediocre condition, costing drivers an average of $621 in after-tax income per year. That’s $141 billion a year in car repairs and maintenance nationally. Of that figure, TRIP estimates that New Yorkers cough up $28 billion annually. Another tidbit courtesy of a blog dedicated to pothole statistics called the Clunker Junker: For every 600 miles of road in the Empire State, there are 20.5 pothole complaints. Feels about right.
Fortunately, there’s a bit of good news for New York City pothole victims. The City Comptroller’s Office now offers reimbursements to those who can prove road negligence as the cause of a blown tire. I’m doing my best to pursue that, though I hear it’s an uphill fight.
Also, freshman Assemb. Mike Lawler (R-Rockland) just introduced legislation to make the cost of car repairs due to potholes tax deductible. Godspeed, assemblyman. We could use that.
I realize we’re in that season when everyone has a pothole story. But this year seems especially treacherous for drivers. At least to this one. A hat trick and $1,700 will color one’s thinking.
Be careful out there. It’s brutal.
Opinions expressed by William F. B. O’Reilly, a consultant to Republicans, are his own.