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Chicago potholes trigger blizzard of damage claims

Cash-strapped Chicago has been hit with a blizzard of damage to vehicle claims, thanks to a relentless barrage of snow, cold and wild temperature swings that has turned city streets into the surface of the moon.

At the Feb. 5 City Council meeting, 305 damage claims stemming from potholes were introduced, more than any other month — by far — in at least the last four years.

The next-highest monthly total was the 275 pothole claims introduced at the April, 2011 City Council meeting.

Last year, Chicago had a relatively snow-free winter that triggered 52 pothole damage claims in February and 1,346 all year.

That’s compared to 66 February claims and 992 in all of 2012; 152 February claims and 1,613 in 2011 and 110 February claims and 1,192 for all of 2010.

The city clerk’s office processes damage claims of up to $2,000 — for everything from flat tires and bent wheel rims to cracked windshields and realignments — before passing them along to the City Council’s Finance Committee.

The figures released Wednesday separated pothole claims from other categories of vehicle damage resulting from raised sewer caps, roads being resurfaced and cars struck by city vehicles.

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Damage to vehicle claim forms are available at www.chicityclerk .com. Motorists need to send in the completed form with a copy of the police report and either a paid repair bill or two estimates. Payment can take up to six months, but don’t count on full reimbursement.

The city usually pays half the cost, on the theory that motorists are at least partially responsible for hitting potholes instead of driving around them.

With complaints and damage claims mounting, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has swung into action.

“I started pothole crews earlier by a week. I’ve added an additional crew so we can do about 8,500 per day. And I ordered the staff about two weeks ago to work up a robust new paving plan, so you’re building new roads — not just fixing old ones,” the mayor said Wednesday after showcasing the first new CTA bus at a garage at 1815 W. 74th St.

“I ask them about it . . . five, six times-a-day to get this plan developed so we can get out and actually pave the roads because, while this is a great new bus with all new systems, because of the potholes, it’s going to really test the new shock absorbers. . . . We’re going to be, hopefully soon, laying out a more robust new road paving plan for the entire city.”

The repaving program can’t come too soon for City Clerk Susana Mendoza, whose office collects city sticker fees that fill the motor fuel tax fund used to fill potholes and repave streets.

“Everyone drives on these roads. . . . It almost feels like you’re in Beirut with all of these potholes,” she said.

“I have to hand it to the mayor. He’s doing the best job he can to get those holes patched. But, it is tough. You can’t really fight Mother Nature as quickly as we’d like to . . . . If you’ve hit one or your tire has been blown out, please go to the clerk’s office and access that form.”

Ald. Mike Zalewski (23rd), a former deputy Streets and Sanitation commissioner, said the cold-patching done by city crews during winter months does little good. It lasts a day or two before the hole pops up again after another bus or truck drives over it.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported last week that, as of ten days ago, Emanuel had already plowed through $25 million in snow removal spending — $4.5 million over a budget that was supposed to cover this winter and the start of next.

That left just $1.5 million of a $6 million motor fuel tax fund surplus that has served as the mayor’s security blanket through this winter that just won’t quit.

Reported Potholes in 2014

Use this map to see reports of potholes this year that have been completed (in red) and reports of potholes that are still open/unfilled (in white):

Here’s a month-by-month look at pothole damage claims: