The plastic "belly pan" under the front end of the seven-year-old Infinity coupe cleared the pavement despite the dip at the end of Ken Horodenski's driveway.
It missed it by only an inch, however. (I know because I stopped with the front wheels in the dip and got out to look.) I'm familiar enough with that car to know something bad would have happened if I had moved at a faster pace. The springs would've compressed and the belly pan would've hit asphalt.
This is a car that recently suffered a broken little flap thing on its cup holder, a piece of plastic that could not possibly cost more than 10 cents to produce. To replace it, I was told, it would cost $95 for an entire new cup holder assembly. If I damage the belly pan plastic, I'm afraid I'll have to take out a second mortgage on my house.
In any case, a little duct tape has made the cup holder functional again, and I made sure I moved at a crawl when I exited Horodenski's driveway to get back onto the newly repaved Lyon Valley Road in Weisenberg Township, western Lehigh County.
When Horodenski contacted me on Monday about his reconfigured driveway, he was really steamed.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation's repaving job, he said, was 4 or 5 inches thick at the side of the road, and that, plus the dip, made it impossible to get his Buick Enclave out of the driveway.
He also has a pickup truck, which has a higher clearance, so he was not totally marooned, but what was his wife supposed to do if he was off somewhere in the pickup? And was the Buick supposed to uselessly sit in his garage forever?
Horodenski said he contacted PennDOT, state Sen. Pat Browne, R-Lehigh, and others, "and they refused to do anything to correct the problem. … They have destroyed my access to my home."
At one point, when he was making a fuss and had parked the pickup on the driveway near the road's right of way, he said a PennDOT official called the state police "because I was interfering with his men working." The troopers showed up, Horodenski said, but told him and the PennDOT crew he was doing nothing illegal.
He also told a PennDOT official that he planned to hire a contractor to fix the problem. "He said, 'If you make the adjustment I'm going to come in and rip it out,'" Horodenski said.
When I visited Horodenski, a neighbor, Dave Krause, came over and said his driveway had similar problems since the repaving. "I don't have trouble with my cars, but if I buy another [low-slung] car … it could happen," he told me.
All this may seem like yet another case of government types stomping all over the rights of some citizen, ho-hum, but Horodenski is not just another average citizen.
Ten years ago he retired from PennDOT, where he had various key positions as a bridge and highway designer for 41 years. At one point his title was "highway design engineer," so he knows what's what when it comes to proper road construction.
He also said that in his tenure with PennDOT, mistakes were sometimes made. "I made plenty of adjustments. … It's part of the design of the work," he said, and professional integrity required that problems be fixed.
I contacted Ron Young, spokesman for PennDOT District 5, which covers the region that includes Lehigh County, and he called back with Mike Rebert, the district executive, on the line.
"We do make adjustments," Rebert told me, but he insisted the clearances on Horodenski's driveway were measured and it "does meet the standard."
When I noted that Horodenski said the clearances do not meet the standard of his Buick, Rebert said Horodenski was asked to drive over the dip to prove it would be damaged, and "he refused to pull his car out and show us. … Unless he has an unusually low sitting car … it should not bottom out."
I told Rebert that my car just barely made it, and only because I crawled over the dip. I also said Horodenski complained that the problem was aggravated because the new pavement was 4 to 5 inches thick at the edges of the road, but Rebert insisted that it was only "a 2-inch overlay."
So I went to Horodenski's home again on Thursday — and took a ruler. It was 4 to 5 inches thick in places, just as he had said.
By that time, Horodenski had solved the problem by hiring a paving contractor to redo the intersection of his driveway and Lyon Valley Road, for about $1,200.
The Buick is free at last, and Horodenski said he plans to try to have PennDOT pay the tab. (I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for that to happen.)
Rebert did promise, however, that PennDOT will not follow through with what Horodenski said was the threat to rip out the work he had done.
I am not certain who is right in this flap, and I never did see for myself if the Buick could have cleared the dip without damaging its undercarriage. (I also asked Horodenski to show me, but he declined.)
All that aside, one thing is clear.
It does not instill great confidence in a state official who is responsible for maintaining our roads — when he cannot tell the difference between 2 inches of pavement and 4 to 5 inches of pavement.
Paul Carpenter's commentary appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.