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Chicagoans can now keep track of city potholes

Pothole Clark Street near Rosemont | Sun-Times Library

Pothole on Clark Street near Rosemont | Sun-Times Library

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Updated: February 20, 2014 6:44AM



Chicago homeowners and businesses already have the ability to track the progress of city snow plows. Now, they’ll be able to do the same with the epidemic of potholes caused by the city’s wild winter weather.

Powered by the city’s Open Data Portal at www.cityofchicago.org/pothole tracker, Pothole Tracker provides a “visual snapshot” of potholes that city crews have filled during the previous week.

Every blue dot on the map is a location where a pothole has been reported. It includes the customer service request number, the date the hole was filled and the total number of potholes attacked on that block when a city crew responded to that one request.

Since the New Year’s Eve storm that buried Chicago in 23 inches of snow before a record-setting cold snap, Chicago Department of Transportation crews have filled more than 50,000 potholes. They’ve gone through 1,000 tons of asphalt patching material.

The pothole problem has generated so many complaints, Mayor Rahm Emanuel added a weekend shift of three pothole crews at least a week earlier than normal.

Pothole tracker, which was announced on Friday, will give Chicagoans the information they need to keep the heat on a Chicago Department of Transportation that Inspector General Joe Ferguson has accused of failing to meet its self-imposed deadlines for pothole repairs and exaggerating its performance by failing to report 53 percent of all requests for those pivotal city services.

“Plow tracker was so popular, we thought we could mimic it. This is a cool tool for people to see the progress in almost real time,” said CDOT spokesman Peter Scales.

“Every blue dot on that map is linked to a customer service request. But every time a pothole crew goes to answer one of those calls, they fill every pothole they can find in the area — and most times it’s a lot more than that one” pothole that triggered the complaint.

Last year, city crews filled more than 625,000 potholes. This year, the combination of heavy wet snow, heavy rain and 50-degree temperature swings has set the stage for a bumper crop of potholes.

“We had so much moisture. When water gets into cracks in the pavement and freezes, the water expands and weakens the structure of the asphalt. When traffic rolls over it, it has a tendency to break in those weakened spots,” Scales said.

“I wouldn’t say it’s worse [than normal], but it’s a little bit earlier than usual.”

In 2011, then-Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein enlisted mechanical reinforcements in the never-ending war on potholes: four machines known as “pothole killers” that can fill a hole in 60 seconds with a much smaller crew. The cost was $50,000-a-month.

On Friday, Scales acknowledged that the experiment failed — just as a prior pothole filling machine flopped three years before that — and has since been abandoned in favor of the old-fashioned way of filling potholes.

“There was a big learning curve on the technology even after training. And it performed about the same or not as well as a crew of folks can do,” he said.

Email: fspielman@suntimes.com

Twitter:@fspielman



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