You Pay for Potholed Roads, One Way or the Other

Nissan is building the next generation of New York City taxis extra tough to withstand roads filled with potholes. The city poses special problems because “it has some of the worst streets and potholes”, according to a Nissan executive in a NYT interview.

The company has built a test track in Arizona “with foot-deep potholes, jagged pavement and rough cobblestones reminiscent of the rough-riding streets of the meatpacking district” of New York.

New York City certainly faces challenges in keeping roads well maintained.  The winter freeze-thaw-freeze cycle is hard on pavement conditions, and continuous heavy traffic volumes pound the pavement while making it challenging to close roads for maintenance.  Budget pressures complicate the funding of maintenance – in terms of less funding but also with occasional furloughs of workers.

City residents, businesses and visitors using cabs still will subsidize road repairs and maintenance. They won’t pay for it through a gas tax or a fee.  Instead they’ll pay through costs passed onto them by car manufacturers spending more to toughen up their vehicles, and taxi operators who have higher maintenance costs due to potholed roads.

A 2010 report found the average urban motorist  pays $402 annually in additional vehicle operating costs (e.g., damaged tires, suspensions and reduced fuel efficiency) due to pavements in poor condition.  A 2009 report found that every $1 spent in keeping a good road in good repair precludes spending $6-$14 to rebuild one that has deteriorated.

This is a cost issue for transit systems as well.

Please Check for Snakes When Exiting the Cab, Phil Patton, New York Times

Urban America’s Rough Roads Costing Drivers $400 a Year” (news release, 29-page PDF report) TRIP, September 2010

Rough Roads Ahead,” (news release, 53-page PDF report), from AASHTO and TRIP, May 2009

For more information visit AASHTO’s Rough Roads webpage.

For another take see “In praise of the humble pothole” by Urbanist guru Chuck Wolfe.