I-TEAM: Are you paying when other drivers cause damage?

CLEVELAND -- The FOX 8 I-TEAM is investigating how often your tax dollars pay the bills when other drivers cause damage.

The I-TEAM has found drivers in Ohio cause millions of dollars in damage crashing into bridges, guardrails, signs and more. But, we’ve learned the state struggles to get those drivers and insurance companies to pay for repairs. So in the meantime, your tax money funds them.

The I-TEAM found over the last four years, just in northeast Ohio, the state has collected a little more than a third of the bills. More than a $ 1 million has not been collected yet. The Department of Transportation says the reasons for that could range from waiting for paperwork and checks cut from the insurance companies or waiting for damage reports from recent crashes, or, in some cases,  it could be due to disputed costs.

And that doesn’t even include a big local project that made headlines. In 2013 a truck crashed into a pedestrian bridge near East 185th Street and I-90. The cost to tear it down and rebuild it topped $3 million, but the state has not yet been paid back years later.

Steve Legerski is a taxpayer who’s kept watch on this. He said, "I think it is crazy that we-the-people have to pay those bills when it's somebody else that should take the place of it and pay these bills. I'm still not happy.”

He added, "All they have to do is go to the insurance companies and get that money back. I still don't understand why they haven't done that."

We asked the Ohio Department of Transportation. Spokesman Matt Bruning said, it’s not so simple. Insurance companies often dispute the cost of damage or repair. So ODOT ends up in a tug-of-war to get paid.

Bruning said, “And if it's damaged in a crash, we don't think the taxpayers of Ohio should have to bear the cost of replacing that. We are very aggressive because we feel like the full amount the taxpayer is due should be paid. So if we have to go to court, if we have to take legal action, we will."

Back to the bridge over I-90. It was completely rebuilt after a truck crashed into the old one. Yet the state still has not been paid back for the cost. For years, they've been negotiating with an insurance company.

This comes to light even as Ohio drivers are being asked to pay more money in taxes. So now, more demand to collect the cost of damage.

Steve Legerski added, "You know, we-the-people, again. We need that money back."

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