Drivers dodging potholes: Rough roads are an expensive nuisance for Chicagoans

December through April is peak pothole season, the city reports. Potholes can damage a car’s tires, alignment and undercarriage. And they pose a problem for bicyclists.

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Vehicles avoid a pothole on North Milwaukee Avenue near West Diversey Avenue in April. In Chicago, drivers who sustain vehicle damage from hitting a pothole can file a claim with the city. The City Council reviews and settles these claims and approves ordinances to pay out damages.

Vehicles on North Milwaukee Avenue near West Diversey Avenue skirt potholes. The abscesses form when water seeps into pavement and repeatedly freezes and thaws, causing cracks to form. So far this year, the city has patched nearly 215,000 potholes in streets and alleys across Chicago.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Gina Petrik-Sands and her husband, Bill, were looking forward to spending time with their grandson, who was celebrating his third birthday in February.

The couple, who live near Navy Pier planned to drive down to suburban Lockport and spend the day with him.

But as they cruised down DuSable Lake Shore Drive their car hit a big pothole near McCormick Place, blowing out one of the front tires and damaging a rear tire, said Petrik-Sands, 55.

“We got a rental and drove out to his birthday party,” Petrik-Sands said. “We were four hours late to his party and had to leave early. It was devastating.”

It ended up costing them around $1,200 to repair the damage, she said, but that was nothing compared to the time they lost with their grandson on his special day.

The number of drivers seeking repairs for pothole damage is up 57% across the country this year, AAA reported in a statement last week, issuing a pothole warning for drivers in Illinois and Indiana.

Potholes happen when water seeps into the pavement and repeatedly freezes and thaws. The expansion and contraction of the water weakens the pavement and causes cracks and holes to form.

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Screenshot of a video showing the damage to Gina Petrik-Sands’ wheel after it hit a pothole in February.

Provided

December through April is “the heart of the pothole season,” said Erica Schroeder, a spokesperson with the Chicago Department of Transportation, in an email to the Sun-Times.

So far this year, the city has patched nearly 215,000 potholes in streets and alleys across Chicago, Schroeder said.

Last year, the department patched more than 605,000 potholes, according to Schroeder. Crews work year-round filling potholes, sometimes repairing thousands in a day.

Drivers can report potholes through Chicago’s 311 system, either over the phone by dialing 311 or online. The city has received more than 22,000 service requests for pothole repairs through the 311 system so far this year, Schroeder said.

The Chicago Department of Transportation’s website calls its program for tackling potholes “aggressive.” Crews often fill potholes within three to six days of the first 311 report, but weather can slow down repairs. Crews fill potholes seven days a week in the winter, Schroeder said.

Petrik-Sands said she filled out a report with the city about the pothole she hit, and when she went back about a week later it was filled in. Still, she said the city could act quicker. ”I think we are so slow in our process in doing pothole repairs,” she said.

Paul O’Neill has only lived in the city for five years but estimates he’s spent around $500 repairing pothole damage to his car. He figures fixing his shocks and suspension, which have been “utterly destroyed” by potholes, would cost him around $2,500 more.

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Vehicles drive along North Milwaukee Avenue near West Diversey Avenue avoiding potholes near the intersection, Monday, April 10, 2023.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

“The beating that my car has taken since moving here has been pretty severe,” O’Neill said. “Shockingly, it’s still running.”

Last year, 44 million drivers paid for repairs after hitting a pothole, AAA reported, at an average cost of $406 per repair.

Karen Viola said she and her husband, Tim, paid about $1,000 to repair their car’s suspension after she hit a pothole on her way to work. She said her car “almost flipped over,” and she blew out her tire while driving on DuSable Lake Shore Drive.

The couple said they hope to file a reimbursement claim with the city soon.

In Chicago, drivers who sustain vehicle damage from hitting a pothole can file a claim with the city. The City Council reviews and settles these claims and approves ordinances to pay out damages, according to the Chicago city clerk’s website.

Drivers seeking pothole-related compensation must mail or hand deliver a claim packet to the city clerk’s office at City Hall. According to the office’s website, the packet should include a Property Damage Claim Form; a receipt or two different cost estimates for the repairs; and a copy of a police report from the incident.

Steven Smith filed a claim when he hit a pothole that “totally destroyed” one of his tires. But he said it took nearly two years for the city to reimburse him for 50% of the cost of replacing the tire.

He said the process of filing the claim was “pretty easy,” but “it was frustrating” to wait for the reimbursement.

“I would advise people to definitely file a claim and just be patient,” Smith said.

And potholes aren’t just affecting motorists, bicyclists also have to navigate the pockmarked Chicago streets as well.

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Cyclist Jesus Mejia sits on his bike near the North Milwaukee Avenue and West Diversey Avenue intersection.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Jesus Mejia, 39, said he’s had to replace many components of his bicycles throughout the years after constantly hitting potholes on his commute.

“If my commute was a smooth road with gentle curves everywhere I would have far less to fix on this bicycle as often as I do,” Mejia said. “I have had bicycles that I got specifically for potholes.”

Mejia also said he’s always on the lookout for drivers swerving in and out of lanes to skirt potholes.

“Not only avoiding the potholes but looking out in front of you,” Mejia said. “You have to constantly think a couple of steps ahead. You’re going to swerve out of the way, but you have to make sure that you know where, and sometimes you just don’t and just ride right into them.”

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