(News Release: March 5, 2019)—

Motorists are having a tough go of it on the four parkways in the National Capital Region owned, managed and maintained by the National Park Service (NPS). The parkways are pockmarked by potholes, making them “pothole hotspots.” Plagued by potholes, the Baltimore-Washington Parkway “averages multiple [crashes] every day,” making it already one of the most dangerous roadways in the Washington metro area. The proliferation of potholes on national parkways across the region poses safety risks to motorists and to other vulnerable users, and could cause a crash and personal injuries, warns AAA Mid-Atlantic, as drivers veer and weave while attempting to dodge and avoid potholes.

AAA emergency roadside assistance crews rescued 10,196 members with tire woes across the region, including 4,940 members in Maryland, Virginia, and the District in the last two weeks of February. Of late, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Emergency Roadside Assistance crews are rescuing an average or two to three members a day suffering from tire problems, flats, or damaged tire or rim sustained on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.

“The count is likely higher with motorists attempting to change flats themselves along the B-W Parkway,” explains James Tribby, Manager, AAA Roadside Assistance Club Fleet Depot in Landover. “Given its narrow shoulders, the B-W Parkway is a dangerous place to fix a flat or to hook up cars to tow trucks. So is the Capital Beltway, where we rescue five or 6 members daily on the Inner and Outer loops due to tire woes.”

An unavoidable collision with a pothole can also cause motorists to lose control of their vehicles. Drivers are urged to keep their eyes peeled for parkways and roadways agape by potholes, to exercise caution when steering to change lanes to avoid a patch of potholes, and for peace of mind, maintain a safe following distance from the vehicle ahead or in front of you. Potholes exact other substantial costs, billions of dollars, on the motoring public. A motorist taking the George Washington Memorial Parkway daily complains that he has gone through two rims and 5 tires in a span of a month due to road hazards and potholes along the Parkway.

Compounding matters, motorists attempting to file a claim for vehicle damaged sustained while hitting a pothole on a roadway owned by the National Park Service, might have a harder time than imagined receiving compensation or reimbursement for the pothole damage claim. They might run into the gauntlet of sovereign immunity. In many jurisdictions across the nation, most claims for reimbursement are rejected, and some cities cite “sovereign immunity” as a fig-leaf.

Yet area motorists have a legal right to submit a claim against the federal, state or local government for the damages sustained while hitting a pothole, explains AAA Insurance.

Although it may be an uphill battle, motorists whose vehicles were damaged by potholes on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, the George Washington Memorial Parkway, the Suitland Parkway and other roads owned and operated by the National Park Service (NPS), should file a claim at ncr_tortclaims@nps.gov or through the NPS National Capital Regional Office.

Filing a tort claim for damages with the federal government can prove both “tortuous” and “torturous.”

The NPS lowered the speed limit on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, a limited-access scenic highway, from 55 miles per hour to 40 mph starting Saturday.

“Hitting a deep pothole at low speed can cause damage to tires, wheels, and steering alignment,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “At higher speeds, hitting deep potholes resembling abysses, crevasses, and fissures can cause severe damage and also risks loss of control resulting in impact with other vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists, or with the curb or roadside objects.”

Even so, the National Park Service faces $12 billion in infrastructure repair backlogs, notes AAA Mid-Atlantic. Although crews patched potholes on Presidents’ Day Weekend along the George Washington Memorial Parkway, the Clara Barton and the Baltimore-Washington Parkways, those urban parkways are still riddled with larger craters, chasms, cavities, crevices, and cracks. NPS crews laid down over 60 tons of asphalt to patch potholes on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway since the end of January. “Despite these efforts, conditions on the road have continued to deteriorate, particularly throughout February,” explains the NPS.

Although the average annual repair and maintenance cost of a 2017 Land Rover is estimated at $1,393, that’s less than the $1,500 the owner of the vehicle paid to replace a rim damaged after hitting a pothole on the George Washington Memorial Parkway, reports the AAA Car Care Center in Seven Corners, which serviced the vehicle after it was towed to the facility. It is a reminder that only “39 percent of Americans” have enough spare cash on hand or in their savings to cover a $1,000 emergency or a catastrophic run-in with a pothole.

“Aging infrastructure and wear and tear combined with lots of precipitation and temperatures that ‘seesaw’ between freezing and thawing make conditions perfect for the formation of potholes,” explains AAA. American drivers pay an estimated $3 billion a year to pay for damages to their vehicles caused by hitting potholes, explains AAA Mid-Atlantic. Over a five-year period, 16 million drivers reported vehicles damaged by potholes, resulting in tire punctures, bent wheels and suspension damages.

“One out of every five miles of highway pavement” across the United States “ is in poor condition and our roads have a significant and increasing backlog of rehabilitation needs,” according to the American Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE) 2017 Infrastructure Report Card. What is more, “the U.S. has been underfunding its highway system for years,” reports the ASCE, “resulting in an $836 billion backlog of highway and bridge capital needs.”

The problem is particularly acute on roads through parklands. In Fiscal Year 2017, the National Park Service had “$11.6 billion in deferred maintenance across its 417 sites,” reports the Pew Charitable Trusts.

That princely sum includes “$4.1 billion” to repair “5,550 miles of paved roads” and “$781.6 million” to repair more than “1,700 road bridges” maintained by the National Park Service. Pointing the finger of blame, the National Parks Conservation Association (NCPA) notes this is “due to the long-term underinvestment in parks by Congress.” “The National Park System is second only to the Department of Defense in the amount of infrastructure it manages, and maintaining and repairing that infrastructure requires resources — staff and materials that the National Park Service has not received from Congress,” warns the National Parks Conservation Association. Up on Capitol Hill, the 116th Congress is currently weighing legislation (H.R. 1225, “The Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act,” and S. 500, “Restore Our Parks Act”) to “address the repair backlog in national parks,” reports The Hill.

“The urban parkways located within the National Capital Region (NCR) have the highest traffic volumes as compared to other parks, since these facilities serve primarily as commuter routes,” explains the National Park Service (NPS). For example, the Baltimore-Washington Parkway boasts “an average daily traffic volume approaching 120,000 vehicles per day,” according to the NPS. That equates to 43.8 million vehicle trips per year along the 19-mile section of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway “between Route 50 (New York Avenue) and Route 175 (Annapolis Road/Jessup Road)” owned and operated by the Park Service.

In contrast, traffic volume on the George Washington Memorial Parkway encompasses 33 million vehicle trips per year. Most of that traffic is on northern section of the parkway, from Sprout Run to Interstate 495. Hitting a pesky cavernous pothole - or taking the wrong measure to avoid one - on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, the George Washington Memorial Parkway, the Clara Barton Parkway, the Suitland Parkway, or any other roadway, can also lead to a crash resulting in injuries or worse, warns AAA Mid-Atlantic.

Given the B-W Parkway’s checkered traffic safety history, the National Park Service lowered the speed limit on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway by 15 miles per hour. Will it make driving along the parkway any safer? The NPS said it made the change to “calm traffic and make it easier for drivers to react to poor road conditions.” This will make the parkway safer for motorists and for pothole repair crews continuing to patch potholes daily during pothole repair season, and highway construction crews repaving the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, during a multi-year, multi-phase effort starting in fall 2019. Perseverance is key.

The Parkway “serves as both a scenic gateway to the nation’s capital and a major commuter corridor.” Since its construction in 1954, “no capacity improvements have been made to the Baltimore-Washington Parkway,” according to the Volpe Center at the U.S. Department of Transportation. Given its heavy traffic volumes, its narrow shoulders, and due to the lack of consistent enforcement, the B-W Parkway is one of the most dangerous roadways in Maryland and in the National Capital Region, AAA warns. Roadway safety problems along the Parkway, which are rampant, are also compounded by drivers who “fail to obey posted speed limits,” and who “drive aggressively and violate other rules of the road,” the Baltimore-Washington Parkway Traffic Safety Plan by the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center warns. The study finds:
“Roadways across the national capital region have developed extensive pothole hazards,” explains the National Park Service. “It has contributed to the deterioration of driving conditions through the Greater Washington area.” “

  • An average of 6 fatalities and 547 crashes per year have occurred on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway since 2006.”However, due to the lack of reliable process for recording crash data, not all crashes are recorded.“One in four crashes on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway results in injury or death.”
  • “Of all the NPS regions, the National Capital Region (NCR) has the most vehicle crashes, accounting for 39 percent of all NPS crashes.”
  • From February 19 to 28, the AAA SOS switchboard fielded some 2,750 tire-related calls from members in Maryland, plus from 1,719 members in parts of Virginia, and 480 members in the District.

When behind the wheel, eliminate distractions and look ahead for roadway hazards, advises AAA Mid-Atlantic. Cars that slow down or move quickly to other lanes may be a signal that major potholes or road damage lurk ahead. Maintain a safe distance from other vehicles, and be wary of puddles that may conceal potholes. Check your surroundings for collision threats before attempting to dodge a pothole. Service bays at AAA Car Care Centers and other repair shops and tire shops in the Washington metro area are humming with cars with bent rims, out of balance wheels, missing wheel weights and hubcaps, tires out of round.

“If you cannot avoid a pothole, slow down, but release the brakes and straighten the steering wheel just before impact to help minimize any damage,” said James Moore, Manager, AAA Car Care Center. “Keep in mind the damage to your tires may not be immediately apparent, however, check your tires for blisters. Keep your tires properly inflated during pothole season and pothole repair events. To help others avoid pothole problems, drivers are urged to report details of the locations of potholes to the proper authorities.”

If you hit a pothole and sustain damage to your vehicle, pull safely off the roadway, take photos of the damage and note the location of the pothole, file a police report, and save repair receipts from your mechanic before filing a claim for reimbursement to the proper agency responsible for maintaining the stretch of roadway, advises AAA Insurance.

“Do your homework. Submit a concise and complete statement of the facts, along with date, time and exact location of the incident,” advised Kendall Bramble, Insurance Counselor, and AAA Insurance. “As a last resort, file an insurance claim for damages. But before you do, consider the repair costs, and the deductible you have. Filing a claim for pothole damage may impact your future insurance rates.”

AAA provides automotive, travel, and insurance services to 59 million members nationwide and nearly 80,000 members in the District of Columbia. AAA advocates for the safety and mobility of its members and has been committed to outstanding road service for more than 100 years. AAA is a non-stock, non-profit corporation working on behalf of motorists, who can now map a route, find local gas prices, discover discounts, book a hotel, and track their roadside assistance service with the AAA Mobile app (AAA.com/mobile) for iPhone, iPad and Android. For more information, visit www.AAA.com.

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