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OpinionEditorial

Many Long Island governments are failing the pothole test

Could a regional road crew be the answer? Winter is coming.

A pothole in Northport on Jan. 4.

A pothole in Northport on Jan. 4. Photo Credit: Newsday / John Keating

They’re baaack.

Or, more appropriately on many roads in many neighborhoods, they’re still here.

Potholes.

Add your own expletive.

Potholes are the bane of a Long Island driver’s life. They’re rim-rattling, tire-tearing, bone-jarring — and they’re seemingly everywhere, as outlined in a Newsday story Sunday. And we haven’t even descended yet into the teeth of winter, when the pothole cycle — rain, sleet or snow gets into a crack in the pavement, then freezes and expands, making the crack bigger — is at its demonically destructive worst.

Year in and year out, potholes are one of the top subjects of angry complaints to municipal call centers and email tip lines — and to Newsday’s editorial board.

One recent letter writer termed potholes “a fact of life on Long Island roads.” Another called our streets “a war zone.” A third compared driving on Long Island with being a bull rider who is “pummeled, jostled, hurtled, a bone crushing experience.” Chances are each would agree with another writer who summed up the “disrepair of our roads” as “an absolute disgrace.”

The solution is simple: Fix the potholes.

It’s one of the basic functions of government. But too many municipalities come up short in fulfilling it. Many potholes linger too long. Our roads are subject to too many different jurisdictions — state, county, town, village. Motorists reporting potholes to one municipality often are redirected to another level of government that oversees the road, an ordeal that can be every bit as exasperating as driving into one of these car-eating caverns. The pothole problem also is symptomatic of the nation’s larger infrastructure issue. Some 70 percent of Long Island roads are in poor or mediocre condition, according to one estimate, thanks partly to increasing traffic over the last 30 years.

Why not approach the pothole problem as the regional issue it is? As more governments look to share services and sign inter-municipal agreements, it’s time our governments joined forces in one big road crew that wouldn’t have to worry about who has jurisdiction. They could share best practices — whether that’s an innovative way to fill potholes quickly, a method of making repairs that really last, a good system for judging whether to fill a hole or do a more expensive but longer-lasting resurfacing, or one big interactive map that pinpoints the location of potholes to help set priorities. North Hempstead Town has a smart new law that bans utilities from opening up newly paved roads, increasing their life by avoiding the seams in which potholes form.

There’s a lot at stake for motorists, beyond reducing exasperation. A solid pothole hit can easily cost a driver $600 for repairs. If 10 drivers hit the same pothole, that’s $6,000. Filling the hole is cheaper. But the longer it takes to fix, the more expensive the repair job. If more money is needed, it should be appropriated.

We’d like to think that potholes don’t have to be as persistent a problem as they have been. Our governments need to step up their game. Because the problem will only get worse.

Winter is coming. — The editorial board

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