According the AAA, potholes cost American drivers $US6.4 billion every year.
In any context, that’s a lot of money. But I didn’t quite understand the problem until last year, when I myself became a victim of America’s crumbling infrastructure.
What really made the AAA statistic stick were the circumstances in which I read it.
A day earlier, I had been handed the keys to a brand-new $US50,000 Volvo S60 T6 sedan. And I mean “brand new” literally. The car had less than 100 miles on the odometer and had just rolled off a boat from Sweden.
I set off to meet my friends for a fun Saturday afternoon. But before I could jump on the highway, I heard one loud thump, followed by another.
I had hit a pothole.
I take that back.
My car was assaulted by a pothole under a dark overpass.
Warning lights lit up in the Volvo’s highly ergonomic interior. I immediately pulled over to the side of the road to assess the damage.
Not one, but both tires on the right side of the car were flat.
After retracing my route, I saw exactly what I had hit.
It was worse that one big pothole. It was a pair of massive potholes.
These things looked like the Grand Canyon forming in a roadway.
Yes, a car perfectly capable of handling the savageries of the Scandinavian winter had been crippled by America’s crumbling infrastructure.
Fortunately, I was able to reach Volvo’s emergency services by pressing the car’s “SOS” button. The company arranged for a tow truck to pick up the car.
In the meantime, I tried out some of the car’s functions.
I caught up on the news using the S60’s in-car internet browser. Although the screen could have been larger and the built-in 3G connection could have been quicker, it worked well enough for me to read the news.
This brings me back to AAA’s statistics. They’re from a WUSA report I read while waiting for the tow truck. It turns out I’m not the only schmuck who managed to damage his car by driving into a pothole. In fact, the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America report that roughly 500,000 claims a year are filed related to pothole damage.
America’s crumbling infrastructure is a recurring theme these days. Last week, a construction worker was killed and a truck driver was injured after part of a highway bridge collapsed in Ohio. Last year, NBC Chicago reported that bridges in the state of Illinois require a whopping $US10 billion worth of repairs.
Last February, Vice-President Biden famously compared LaGuardia Airport to a third world country.
In December, President Obama echoed the VP’s concern — in a less colourful manner — calling the country’s lack of investment in infrastructure embarrassing and a threat to our ability to compete.
After 45 minutes, the tow truck arrived. I got out to take one more look at the damage. Yup, the tires were still flat.
Eventually, the S60 was loaded onto a flatbed truck and taken away to a dealership for repair. All’s well that ends well.
As for the pothole, the last time I checked, it was still there — lurking in the shadows and waiting for its next victim.
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