News From Terre Haute, Indiana

December 12, 2012

Recouping costs

Sheriff suggesting Vigo copy state program to get back roadway damage

Howard Greninger
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Modeling after a state program, Vigo County Sheriff Greg Ewing is suggesting that county administrators consider initiating a program that allows the county to recoup repair and replacement costs of damaged roadside property, such as signs or guardrails, from motorists’ insurance companies.

Ewing and Maj. Jeff Fox told the Vigo County Board of Commissioners Tuesday of the sheriff’s department’s participation in the DamageWise program from the Indiana Department of Transportation.

If an accident results in damage to state property, sheriff deputies will place a pink-colored tag on a damaged guardrail, sign, bridge or other road structure. The tags are provided to the sheriff’s department from INDOT.

“The tag has the agency name, the case number and officer’s name. That helps the state to go back and bill the motorist’s insurance for the cost to repair any damage,” Fox said. “The question we bring is — is this something at the county level that could be beneficial?” Fox said.

Vigo County Attorney Michael Wright said the county highway department is diligent about seeking insurance reimbursement for damage to major structures such as bridges. Ewing said the county could implement a similar program that could also help recover costs for items such as damaged roadside signs or guardrails.

Vigo commissioners took the idea under consideration, seeking to consult with the county engineer.

INDOT’s DamageWise program this year recovered $3.81 million for damaged state property from insurance companies and motorists. Approximately 4,000 motor vehicle crashes each year damage INDOT-maintained guardrails, cable barriers, signs, bridges, culverts, pavement, traffic signals, lighting structures and crash attenuators, said INDOT spokeswoman Debbie Calder.

Fox said a statewide crash damage tagging system associates damaged signs or bridges to a crash report. However, sometimes deputies fail to mark on an incident report that state property has been damaged. The tag is a backup to ensure the property is marked, Fox said.

INDOT maintenance crews, or contractors, document crash damage by taking a photograph with a time stamp and GPS location recorded, Calder said. Field personnel and accounts receivable personnel use an information technology system that interfaces with Indiana’s statewide crash report system used by law enforcement, Calder said.

The program in 2011 invoiced $2.4 million with a collection rate of 79 percent, taking an average of 165 days to execute. This year, INDOT invoiced $3.81 million to recoup costs to roadside infrastructure, with a collection success rate of 85 percent, taking an average of 51 days to execute.

Reimbursements generated through DamageWise are reinvested into INDOT capital programs and operations, according to INDOT. The program was developed through INDOT’s partnership with the Purdue University School of Engineering’s Joint Transportation Research Program.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be contacted at 812-231-4204 or howard.greninger@tribstar.com.