An influential alderman’s complaint about cracks along a recently repaved stretch of Wentworth on Thursday prompted Mayor Rahm Emanuel to order a citywide audit to determine whether shoddy work by private contractors set the stage for an epidemic of potholes.
Newly appointed Transportation Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld said the tip from Ald. Carrie Austin (34th), chairman of the City Council’s Budget Committee, was verified by Chicago Department of Transportation inspectors.
“There were portions of Wentworth repaved in 2013, and there are cracks occurring at the seams along the center line of the street where two sections of paving come together,” Scheinfeld said Thursday.
“There are cracks out there that we think the contractor should be responsible for repaving at their expense. It starts with a crack, and a crack turns into a pothole. Water gets in, freezes, expands, thaws [and puts pressure on the pavement]. Cracks are not as visible to drivers as potholes. But cracks are the first indication of a problem with the paving.”
Scheinfeld did not identify the contractor in question. But she said the suspect stretch includes roughly 150 feet of newly resurfaced street that is still covered by a one-year warranty on materials and workmanship.
According to the commissioner, Austin’s verified complaint “got the ball rolling” on a citywide audit of the 100 miles of arterial streets resurfaced last year by four private contractors.
The city will start by mining “data to see where we’ve been getting 311 complaints of problems with the pavement and where we’ve been doing patching”—information available on the city’s “Pothole Tracker” data portal, Scheinfeld said.
Where there’s a pattern, there will be “site visits” to determine whether there was shoddy work and whether that falls within the one-year warranty.
The work was inspected upon completion, but Scheinfeld said a “small portion of payment was held back as leverage” in the event of a problem.
“Now we’re doing a comprehensive review across the city of all the work that was done to make sure it’s holding up under the harsh winter conditions which, if done properly, it should,” she said.
“We will be pursuing contractors aggressively where we think there’s evidence of a failure of workmanship. … Each of these cases we find is going to require unique negotiations to determine” whether financial penalties will be assessed or repaving mandated at contractor’s expense.
Since the New Year’s Eve storm that buried Chicago in 23 inches of snow before a record-setting cold snap, CDOT crews have filled more than 215,000 potholes.
The pothole problem has generated so many complaints, Emanuel has started crews early, added six more weekend crews and ordered his staff to develop what he called a “more robust” paving plan.
“One of the things you know if you’re a bit of a nerd like me, the recently paved roads are better-resistant to the moisture so when it goes hot-cold, hot-cold, it doesn’t crack. Which is why I’ve been [harping] about not just pothole-filling, but I want a very robust paving strategy to go beyond what we’ve done,” the mayor told the Chicago Sun-Times last week.
The Sun-Times reported last week that 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.