Special Segment: Road Warriors

May 1, 2012 8:39:41 PM PDT
There are more than 140,000 miles of roadways in Illinois -- from expressways to the side streets. The pavement sees a lot of wear and tear including bad weather and heavy trucks.

In the state's ongoing effort to figure out which roads get fixed first, a high-tech tool is giving engineers a driver's perspective of potholes and cracks.

Shirley Crowder and Lesle Palmeri are piloting a carefully calibrated van to take a snapshot of Illinois roads.

"We are here to hit the potholes that everyone else would normally swerve away from," said Crowder. "When you see the road, you'll see the road that goes down like this, I have instrumentation on board that allows us to measure the pitch, the roll, the depth, the cracks."

"An average day, we may drive three to 500 hundred miles," said Palmeri. "I thought I would be nervous driving this large vehicle throughout the Chicago streets, and it hasn't bothered me at all. I can't say nobody cutting me off, but I anticipated a lot more."

The van's onboard computers coordinate cameras taking rapid-fire pictures of the roads as they travel at up to 60 miles an hour.

"We are collecting at 200 images per mile," said Crowder.

All the while, lasers collect high-definition images of the road rolling underneath.

IDOT systems performance manager Travis Lobmaster directs the program that takes the van's images and turns them into repair recommendations.

"We've been called the pothole patrol before," he said. "It's our way to keep a pulse on the way the roads are holding up."

The state team in charge of pavement analysis sits in front of displays and checks each bit of pavement for signs of wear and tear, such as a crack on I-55 heading downtown.

"You can essentially stop in the middle of the Stevenson Expressway if you see a problem and you can zoom in and get a real good view of what's out there," said Lobmaster.

"We're looking for distresses, cracks, and then the severity of the stress," said Vince Durante, IDOT.

When the Department of Transportation crews analyze the data, every road starts with a score of nine. Then they take the cracks the van found and take points off the score.

When roads end up with scores in the fives or less they are too worn down and move up the state priority list.

As the van rolls around the state, it's marking the rough patches for state engineers and drivers in search of a smoother ride.

State engineers also take into account other factors such as the amount of traffic on a road before making final determinations on repairs.

This year's collection won't be finished until later this summer, but if you want to see the state's most recent grades for major roads near you, check out this data:

IDOT Road Conditions - Cook County

IDOT Road Conditions - District One

IDOT - Cook County Additional Road Conditions

IDOT - Additional Chicago Suburban Road Conditions