On Feb. 8, Robyn Palmersheim had to get new tires for the third time in two years because of a blowout caused by hitting a pothole on Chicago’s streets.
“It was a significant hole in the street,” Palmersheim, 45, an education administrator from North Center, says of the pothole she hit in the 1700 block of North Western Avenue. “It was like there were two of them side by side. As soon as I hit it, I was, like, ‘Oh, something’s wrong.’ ”
Unlike the first two times that she had to replace tires because of potholes, this time she filed a claim with the city. She’s asking for $1,100 — the cost to replace the two front tires on her low-riding Audi A7, which is particularly prone to fall prey to potholes.
Potholes are a seasonal plague in Chicago, like pollen in the springtime or having to rake leaves in the fall — something people learn to deal with. But the number of pothole complaints to City Hall is up this year, according to a Chicago Sun-Times analysis of city data that found drivers filed 11,706 complaints about potholes with the city in the first two months of 2018. That’s 14 percent higher than the same period last year and the most in three years.
Still, it’s about on par for a typical year, according to city officials, who are sensitive to the potential for political fallout from potholes and held a news conference a week ago to show Mayor Rahm Emanuel is taking potholes seriously, with patching crews on the job overnight and seven days a week during pothole season.
The first few months of the year usually are the worst for potholes as the weather warms up after winter’s cycle of freezes and thaws.
For the 12 months from March 1, 2017, through Feb. 28, 43,502 pothole complaints were filed with the city through calls to 311 and online filings. The Chicago Department of Transportation filled 456,333 potholes as a result of those complaints, according to the Sun-Times analysis that also found:
- Potholes are a problem across the city, with complaints filed about 20,000 different blocks.
- But the most complaints in the past year have come from these seven areas: West Town, Austin, the Near West Side, the Near North Side, Auburn Gresham, Norwood Park and Logan Square. Each of those accounted for more than 1,000 complaints. West Town was the worst, with 1,494 complaints.
- Each complaint resulted, on average, in more than 10 potholes getting filled.
- Auburn Gresham, Ashburn and Austin had the most potholes filled because of complaints — more than 13,000. Oakland, on the South Side, had the least, with 437.
- The worst potholes tend to be found in industrial areas, bus turnaround zones and construction zones — areas with a concentration of heavy vehicles — according to Tom Carney, the department’s first deputy commissioner.
- But complaints tend to center more on busy streets. The five blocks with the most complaints: the 300 block of North Lake Shore Drive (33), the 100 block of South Michigan Avenue (22), the 5000 block of South Archer Avenue (20), the 100 block of southbound North Lake Shore Drive (19) and the 4800 block of South Archer (18).
As much of a pain as potholes are, things could be worse. The first two months of 2014 saw nearly 20,000 complaints about potholes. That was during a wicked winter, with 82 inches of snow, according to the National Weather Service. This winter has been pretty average — 30.7 inches so far.
Thanks in part to this winter’s worst weather coming relatively late, city pothole crews have been able to respond to pothole complaints faster, according to Carney — 3.1 days, on average, so far this winter versus 6.1 days last winter.
“You’re supposed to stop and fill in everything you see,” Carney says of the instructions patching crews are given. “This time of year, the ‘burn rate’ is much higher: We have five-ton dump trucks coming back to us empty in two hours.”
FILING A POTHOLE CLAIM
Claim forms are available and can be filed online at http://www.chicityclerk.com.
The city asks for information including insurance, a police report and repair estimate.
Don’t expect to be reimbursed in full: Half is typical, the city’s reasoning being that drivers might have tried harder to avoid them. Payment — a maximum of $1,500 — can take six months.
Some claim facts:
- There were filed 731 claims with the city of Chicago last year for vehicle damage caused by potholes, according to the city clerk’s office.
- Pothole damage accounted for more than two-thirds of vehicle and property claims filed with the city.
- The number of pothole-related claims for vehicle damage filed in 2014 — an especially bad year — was 5,431. In the first two months of 2018, 135 claims were filed.
- The City Council approved payments on 88 pothole claims in 2017, paying a total of $18,800.19 — $213.64 per claim. And the city spent $759,064.42 on “cold patch” to fill in potholes.