KGAN, I-380: The Bottomless Pothole

Thursday, May 8, 2008

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A CBS 2 investigation uncovers several problems with interstate 380 and all of them explain why this road is so terrible for 44,000 of you to drive everyday.

    Crews have started a $15 million repair project. But could what has become a commuting nightmare, been avoided altogether? And are the repairs going on right now going to last or is it just scratching the surface.

    There is no question I380 needs repair. Pothole after pothole putting unwanted wear on our cars and our patience.

    Sharon Falduto, says, “I don't remember ever seeing it this bad.”

    Sharon Falduto has driven back and forth from Iowa City to Cedar Rapids for her job for more than 12 years. But this year was the worst.

    Sharon says, “You had to really try to avoid the holes and you had to be careful where you passed somebody because the middle lane would be a giant hole.”

    A dangerous game that puts Sharon’s and many other cars into repair shops.

    Sharon says, “It ended up costing about 200 dollars which I would have rather not have had to spend and honestly I am a little worried about my other car as well.”

    A problem that might have been avoided if the DOT followed its original plan. CBS 2 News has uncovered that the surface you see on the road right now was designed to be replaced before 2008.

    Rodger Boulet, the district materials engineer for the Iowa DOT, says, “It would have been better if we could have done it last year.”

    That’s right I380 was ready to be resurfaced before this harsh winter, why didn’t it happen? Not enough money. The DOT is short and projects keep getting put off.

    And if they would have resurfaced or even ripped up this road before this winter, it would have saved us all a lot of damage to our cars. But the problem is much deeper than a simple resurfacing. This stretch of I-380, from Cedar Rapids to Iowa City, has a drainage problem. A problem so bad, the only way to fix it is by tearing up the road and starting over.

    But we've uncovered that's not going to happen anytime soon. Right now, the DOT is using $15 million of your tax money to scratch the surface.

    Cathy Culter, the district planner for the Iowa DOT says, “We have limited funding so over time as the road begins to deteriorate we monitor it and patch it and do the maintenance work that is need but there comes a point where that's not holding the road together anymore.”

    Some would say that time came three years ago when engineers red-flagged I380 south of Cedar Rapids to I80 as in need of repair.

    Boulet says, “Once we get done we're hoping we won't have to do any major work on it for years to come.”

    Or will they? That drainage problem is what’s making these potholes so bad and so hard to fix.

    Boulet says, “Unfortunately we don't have a good way of dealing with that short of tearing the road up.”

    So why not deal with the pains of construction all at once right now?

    Wilfrid Nixon, a U of I Professor of civil and environmental engineering, says "It would be great to just rip everything up and start over. The problem is that costs money."

    Nixon studies these types of road problems at the University of Iowa.

    Nixon says, “The sad news is that we haven't been budgeting the kind of money that we need to maintain our roads in ideal condition.”

    And it's going to get worse unless the people you elected make a drastic change at the state capitol. Funding for the DOT is $200 million short each year, for the next five years. That's just for repairs like 380's resurfacing, that does not count new projects.

    Nixon says, “Its serious enough that ultimately you see bridges falling down. The road maintenance fairy is not going to come around and give us money its got to come from somewhere.”

    While Lawmakers sort it out, project wait.

    Nixon says, “The reality right now is we have to go with a band aid. I'm sure its going to be the best band aid that we can get for the bucks but we also have to think long term as what we as a state can do to minimize such band aids in the future. It’s a pay me now or pay me later thing.”

    State lawmakers did pass a law this year that will help with the funding gap but it's not enough and it won't fully take affect until 5 years.

    An increase in the state's gas tax would provide the needed money. The DOT says 9 cents a gallon more would take care of it. It sounds like a lot with gas here $3.54 a gallon. But if you add it up, it would cost the average person 76 cents more a week, or $39.60 more a year.

    Its a pay me now or pay me later dilemma.