• Last modified 799 days ago (July 23, 2020)


Repair bills hidden cost of bad roads

Staff Writer

The poor condition of Marion County’s roads are hitting drivers with a hidden pothole tax of repair bills.

Deep ruts and lack of crown damage a car’s tires and suspension while loose gravel can shatter windshields.

Kim Kaufman, service manager at Hillsboro Ford, said mud and dirt often become trapped in the vehicle’s underbodies, causing damage.

He deals with suspension problems year round.

“Any vehicle we have, that comes in here and the owners live on a dirt road in lake country,” he said. “They experience more trouble.”

Grit in their emissions systems damages newer model cars.

“That’s one thing we see quite a bit of is dust and dirt getting into the evaporative emissions systems on our newer vehicles,” he said. “And that’s a lot more likely to happen when they are on a dirt road — and I’m counting dirt and rock as all the same.”

David Leith, owner of Leith’s Service in Marion, has had many driver complaints about damage from large rocks.

“It seems to cause a lot of problems with tires,” he said.

TRIP, a private nonprofit that researches transportation issues, said poor roads cost Kansas motorists $1.24 billion a year — $611 per driver in the form of added car repairs, increased fuel consumption, tire wear, and vehicle depreciation.

A total of 40% of major roads are in poor or mediocre condition, according to TRIP.

Marion County engineer Brice Goebel is vastly more dour: “What’s more damaged? Pick one – the vast majority of them are.”

Water has destroyed the base of many of the roads that have completely flat surfaces. Potholes are filled and then refilled.

“They have been bad for so long, we may not be able to fix them immediately with the resources we have,” he said, adding that dealing with the problem would take millions.

Norman Bowers, a retired road engineer and surveyor, who worked in the county’s road and bridges department in the mid-’70s agrees with Goebel’s assessment.

“This does not happen over the course of a couple of years, it happens over decades.”

“It might take decades to come out of it, and I don’t know if the county has the resources to go in the right direction. I don’t know that.”

The price of neglect will likely be expensive, he said.

“When he says millions, it’s a lot of millions,” Bowers said.

He said the county might need to prioritize by letting some of its roads become dirt so it can rebuild and maintain routes that are well traveled.

Neighboring counties like McPherson, Harvey, Sedgwick and Dickinson don’t have better gravel roads, but their main roads are in better shape.

“Marion County has spread out so far they are having trouble maintaining the roads they have,” he said.

Drivers often are innocent parties who pay for bad roads with damage to their cars — like repeatedly losing the engine shield on an auto’s underbelly.

“That is a high-center caused by ruts in the gravel,” Bowers said. “That is definitely lack of crown and lack of gravel. Water can’t get off the road and with a lack of gravel trucks start rutting it up and little cars pay the price.”


Last modified July 23, 2020