Pothole season continues despite many communication delays with helplines

By Andrea Vazquez and Matt Balazia

Number of Potholes Patched (GoogleMyMaps by Matt Balazia)

The spring season brings in the rise of construction projects all throughout the city as potholes begin to bloom in the streets like flowers in a garden.

Several commuters throughout the city understand how much nuisance potholes can be while maneuvering throughout the city. According to the Chicago Data Portal, the city averages more than 100 potholes patched per week. The city considers the months of December to April to be the prime of the “pothole season.”

Google Trends of “311 Chicago” and “Potholes” (Graphic by Matt Balazia)

However, several parts of the city remain untouched. For those familiar with the North Side, the Fullerton street between Narragansett and Laramie is recognized as one of the most brutal streets of the community.

Chicago Public Schools employee Eveyln Ruiz said that during 25 years of living in the Belmont-Cragin neighborhood, Fullerton Avenue repairs remain incomplete despite the several construction projects launched throughout many years of her working in the neighborhood.

“It’s an alderman thing,” Ruiz said. “It’s something that the alderman has got to get involved with.”

Ruiz helps students cross the Fullerton and Laramie intersection every day and said the street is so hazardous that regular crossing guards refuse to work there.

“They’ll come and do half work… last time they said to call the district (referring to street work that seemed uncompleted),” Ruiz said.

On April 26, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced the start of the First Phase in a Five-year effort to rebuild Chicago’s infrastructure. “Chicago Works” as the mayor refers, will repair and replace roads, bridges, sidewalks, crosswalks, ramps, streetlights, and traffic signals.

This project will “put thousands of Chicagoans back to work” and address “decades of long backlog,” according to the mayor’s office.

The traditional process of repairing a pothole consists of using hot mix asphalt for the spring/summer season and cold-patch asphalt material during the winter.

The average price of fixing a pothole ranges from $30 to $50, with a mobilization fee ranging from $100 to $150 to get a crew and repair service out to the site, according to SealMaster. This goes along with the addition of traffic jams at the sites while these potholes are repaired.

Kendra Toomey commutes long-distance from the city to different suburbs daily for her job, as a field learning program manager.

Toomey commutes from the neighborhoods up north like Andersonville, Uptown, some more like the West Loop, River North, down through the city eventually making her way to the expressways out of the city.

“The farther you get out of the city, the fewer potholes there are,” Toomey said. “There aren’t any potholes in Bloomingdale, Schaumburg, barely any in Naperville, just through and out of the city.”

Adding to commutes, the amount of potholes and repairs is both a “waste of money and time” said Toomey. It is a bandaid on a larger issue of infrastructure and road quality in Chicago. Although she has suffered no damage to her vehicle, the added time to the commute daily is considered a massive loss.

The Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) usually handles cases with streets and sanitation. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, CDOT’s downtown office remains closed. When calling the number of the department of transportation, the Automator reroutes callers to the 311 helplines.

The 311 Phone Number and website exist to support the repair of Chicago roads by submission and request of citizens. Even with this feature, potholes in the city remain an issue. CBS2 reported potholes that were marked as resolved on the 311 websites, but in actuality were not completed.

The 311 websites will show the date the issue was resolved, a timestamp, and photos but as seen time and time again, some of these potholes and road issues are marked resolved without being completed. This defeats the purpose of the feature.

Toomey said she’s aware of the 311 number but has never used it due to the excessive amount of potholes in the city.

“I would literally have to have someone in the passenger seat next to me taking down every location as we pass them,” she said. “Overall, the street quality is not just the potholes, but the patching of the potholes that is not as good.”

Interview Clip of Kendra Toomey (Audio Edited by Matt Balazia)

The city has several programs dedicated to repairing the city such as the Green Alley Program and Shared Cost Sidewalk Program, which are city initiatives endorsed by the CDOT. However, programs regarding potholes in the city remain stagnant.

According to the City of Chicago data portal, the average number of potholes filled on a city block is 13 when on road repair. In 2021 there were over 156,000 potholes filled. In 2021 alone, Fullerton Avenue saw 714 potholes patched.

Sixteen percent of all potholes filled in 2021 are from April alone as of April 15th, 2021. That equates to over 25,000 potholes in just the City of Chicago.

The CDOTs webpage claims that potholes get repaired depending on larger streets that receive the most volume. This indicates that arterial streets that handle hundreds of cars per day take seniority over residential areas that handle much fewer cars.

This may apply to the added wait time a 311 report would take.

There are also several different variations amongst potholes which include irregularly shaped pavement holes, sinkholes, or utility cut holes all of which can indicate the sense of urgency needed to be repaired by the CDOT. If the pothole appears to be essential for sewer lines and sewer repairs then it’s likely to be attended faster.

According to the CDOT, typically reports are fulfilled within three to six days of the first report submitted.

If the department considers a pothole to be considered non-hazardous, then it is likely that it won’t be repaired until the said street is said to be completely repaired. However, people can increase the demand of urgency by having multiple people in the same community make the same report on a particular location.

How to Report Potholes” (Venngage Infographic by Andrea Vazquez)

Vehicles that have been damaged by potholes are free to file claims with the City Clerk of Chicago.

According to Moog, a car auto parts company, the common damages caused by potholes are damaged suspension systems, exhaust systems, wheel rims, and tires.

An NPR article reported in 2018 the city had approved 1,106 claims for vehicle damage caused by potholes. However, in order to get a vehicle damage claim approved by the city the claimant needs to submit extensive paperwork to justify their claim.

Despite the setbacks caused by COVID-19 restrictions, the 311 remains open for any pothole claims within the city. Anyone that wishes to make a vehicle damage claim can file online on www.chicityclerk.com or via phone (312) 744–6861.

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