City Trying to Stay Ahead of Chronic Pothole Problem

Miles of streets that make up Chicago's celebrated complexion are pockmarked and pitted.

"They're worse than ever," driver Moreen Mohr says.

Just about everyone has had a has had a personal encounter with potholes.

"I knew there were potholes. I'd seen them," said Nancy Farber.

But she didn't see the one that totaled her car, causing a blown tire, broken rim, damaged steering column and bent frame.

"I was shocked," she said. "It sounded like an explosion."

Mechanic Frank Guaske, Manager of Wells Automotive, says he's repairing pothole damage on as many as 50 to 60 cars a week. And, he says, because of the weather and temperatures swings "the next two to three weeks are really going to be hell."

There is no doubt that the plethora of Chicago potholes is a bigger source of complaints to City Hall than ever before.

And there's also no doubt that the increased volume makes the political consequences of not addressing the problem as potentially significant as how the streets are plowed. That's why the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) closely tracks how quickly it patches the potholes reported by the thousands from every neighborhood in the city.

NBC 5 Investigates looked at the city's web site and another, run by University of Chicago web programmer Tom Kompare, that list and map each pothole complaint.

There appears to be more 8,000 outstanding complaints this week. But CDOT spokesman Peter Scales insists the accurate number is half of that because so many complaints are duplicate calls for the same pothole.

When NBC 5 Investigates took the same data to the streets, it revealed a surprising discovery. Several of the complaints were more than a year old.

Potholes still exist on the 2300 block of West Armitage, the 4200 block of North Sheridan, and the 2400 block of North Clark.

But the city says that is evidence a chronic problem on a certain block, not of poor performance by city pothole crews.

There are as many as 24 crews working seven days a week to patch potholes. Since Jan. 1, the city reports a staggering 165,000 potholes have been patched.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel appears to be pushing for a more permanent solution. He promised Wednesday that Chicago's streets will be "paved, plowed and passable and we're all going to do it in a balanced budget."

Because of a new arrangement between CDOT, the city's Water Department and public utilities, the Mayor has set a goal of paving 300 miles of the city's streets. He says newly-paved streets have fewer potholes. Politically speaking it may also be true that newly-paved streets generate fewer gripes from voters.

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