Chicago is fighting a losing battle against potholes.
That much was clear again Wednesday when more than 1,200 additional damage to vehicle claims were introduced at a City Council meeting.
It’s the second straight month that pothole-triggered claims have topped the 1,000 mark. That’ll bring the total submitted since Jan. 1 to more than 3,100. The total for the last three years was 2,426.
The blizzard of new claims from frustrated motorists helps to explain why aldermen vented their anger this week during a Budget Committee hearing called to approve Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s controversial plan to use $18 million in federal community development block grant funds to resurface 15 miles of arterial streets ravaged by Chicago’s brutal winter.
When Southwest Side Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th) credited the Chicago Department of Transportation with at least “doing a good job filling potholes,” he was interrupted by Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Austin (34th).
“No, they’re not,” Austin said.
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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.
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.
Chicago’s brutal winter — with a relentless barrage of snow, cold and wild temperature swings — has turned city streets into the surface of the moon.
With an eye on the mayoral election fast approaching, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has already moved heaven, earth and pavement to address the problem that has many motorists on the warpath.
He started crews early, added six more weekend crews and ordered the Chicago Department of Transportation to assign all 30 of its pothole crews to main streets on Mondays and Fridays to address scores of potholes in blitzkrieg fashion using a grid system.
Most recently, he delivered on the repaving portion of his promise.
Instead of fighting a losing battle against potholes, the mayor announced that Chicago would resurface 22 more miles of arterial streets, thanks to $14 million from the state, $8 million from tax increment financing and funding pooled from aldermanic menu money.
On Tuesday, another 15 miles were added to that total, thanks to CDBG funds. But the plan touched a nerve with the City Council.
Before the Budget Committee vote, aldermen from across the city beefed about being left out of the decision-making on which main streets to repave and about Emanuel’s decision to freeze spending in a treasured, $66 million-a-year program that has allowed Chicago aldermen to choose from a menu of neighborhood improvements.
“Arterial streets are a need. Where we have a bigger need … is in the neighborhoods. … We need some support. We cannot pay for all of the streets in our communities that have been damaged by this past winter,” Cochran said.
West Side Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) argued that using CDBG funds to repave arterial streets that “transport people through” inner-city communities “violates the spirit” of federal block grant funding, which was intended to help those neighborhoods.
“Maybe some of this should be reallocated to the actual community itself — not necessarily for those traveling through, but for those who actually live there, which would lead us toward more neighborhood streets,” Ervin said.
Noting that CDBG money is “geographically limited,” Ervin asked Deputy Transportation Commissioner Dan Burke, “How do you figure to use this money citywide?”
Burke said he would start with a citywide map of eligible CDBG zones, then pick the “15 worst miles in Chicago” based, in large part on the number of potholes filled and pothole complaints filed.
“When you see those streets, it’s pretty readily evident which streets are some of the worst out there. And we will work toward a good citywide distribution of those streets. … We’ll make every effort to make sure [there is] as even a distribution of those 15 miles as we possibly can citywide,” Burke said.
That guarantee was not enough to satisfy Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), chairman of the City Council’s Transportation Committee.
Beale demanded to know why aldermen were not consulted about “their priorities” for street resurfacing before Emanuel made the decision to tap CDBG funds.
He further demanded that menu money frozen at $66 million for years and evenly distributed — with $1.32 million allotted to each of the 50 aldermen — be unevenly allocated, based on the size and number of streets in each ward.
“We need to start putting the bulk of the resources where you have the most mileage and problems,” Beale said.
Beale’s demand for an increase in menu money to Chicago’s largest wards was seconded by Austin and Ald. Tim Cullerton (38th).
“I have many, many more streets than some of my colleagues do, but they still get the same amount of money. We’re doing arterial streets, which is infrastructure, and they’re doing pretty stuff. That’s an unfair process,” Austin said.