City tries to cope with growing pothole problem

January 3, 2009 3:37:58 PM PST
Chicago's budget to fix potholes this year is $12 million, but the number of potholes is surging. City crews are now working weekends, filling more than 2,500 potholes each day.Officials with Chicago's Department of Transportation are exploring all options and working to stay within budget, as drivers flood the city with phone calls.

"I called 3-1-1 to report these potholes myself, using my cell phone, calling every time I get a chance," said driver Sandy King.

More than 2,800 other people have made the same calls. That's why, during the first weekend of the new year, crews were on the clock. About 40 workers were filling potholes over the weekend, and the mild weather helped.

"We just want to take advantage of the warmer weather today to get crews out to do pothole patching. Our goal is to fill as many potholes as the weather is cooperating with us," the Chicago Dept. of Transportation's Thomas Byrne said.

C-DOT says the number of potholes has increased dramatically since mid-December. Since Tuesday, the commissioner says, crews have filled more than 10,000 potholes, and those workers are not alone.

Earlier in the week, Illinois Tollway workers used "hot mix" to fill holes. Plants that make the hot mixture have shut down because of the cold weather, but the Tollway was able to have a plant open and make a batch. Transportation experts say the hot asphalt lasts longer and is more durable than the cold patches Chicago was using over the weekend, and the hot patches may be an option.

"I would be glad to look at that. If I could get them to open up for us, I would certainly like to use hot patch, especially with the roller," said Byrne.

But C-DOT officials also warn that it's not so easy. Chicago has a "hot mix" contract with a different company. And the Tollway is a single stretch of road, while Chicago's potholes dot numerous main and side streets.

Either way, drivers are pleased the problem is being fixed.

"Running some potholes is really terrible. It can really destroy your car. So, it's really good they are out and working and trying to fix the different streets around the city," said driver Marcia Collins.

The commissioner has been able to reach an agreement with the union to tackle the pothole problem seven days a week. So, the workers will be fixing the problems every day of the week for the rest of the season. The commissioner hopes that will help them stay ahead in the future.

Last year, C-DOT paid overtime when crews worked weekends, but this year is different. The union and the city agreed to change workers' schedules. Some crews now work four, 10-hour days, including Saturday and Sunday.


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