Get to bottom of pothole problem


January 10, 2014 5:18PM

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Updated: February 13, 2014 6:43AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel says he’s all over the potholes that are littering Chicago’s streets after last week’s deep freeze.

Pothole crews will work seven days week, the mayor said Friday, which means ordering the start of weekend shifts a week earlier than in 2013. Chicagoans, he’s urging, should report all potholes.

Already, 15,000 potholes have been filled, Emanuel says.

Who isn’t glad to hear that?

But a promise is one thing. Results are another.

And as we’ve learned over the last few years, this mayor likes to talk big, sometimes bigger than he’s willing to admit the results actually bear out.

We love Emanuel’s ambition. We cheer on his impatience.

But enough overselling.

We’re particularly leery of ambitious promises to fill potholes after last week’s release of an audit by the city’s inspector general. From 2010 to 2012 (half that time Emanuel was mayor), the city failed to meet its self-imposed deadline of completing 90 percent of pothole repairs within seven days. It met the target 74 percent of the time.

What’s worse, data on the city’s website portrayed a much sunnier picture, showing a city in 2012 that consistently met that seven-day goal. Turns out the Department of Transportation omitted 53 percent, or 44,200, of the 2012 service requests, the IG found.

While CDOT gets points for tracking its data and making it public, unlike some other departments, we agree with IG Joe Ferguson’s assessment that “inaccurate or incomplete reporting of performance data as found here may undermine the very public confidence and trust that transparency mechanisms intend to foster.”

The folks at CDOT say the omission was unintentional, resulting from a mistake in the computer program design, and it already has been fixed. CDOT also independently developed another, separate performance-tracking system on its website. We’re willing to take them at their word, particularly since the mayor hasn’t been out trumpeting the inaccurate results. In other cases, the mayor and his representatives have been caught heralding unconfirmed or inflated results.

As for failing to meet the 90 percent target, CDOT gets credit for setting a high target (and for hitting it for repairs to stop signs and other services). And while response rates improved between 2010 and 2012, CDOT must find to find a way to deliver on its promises.

We love a mayor who aims high, especially when it comes to potholes. But when real results fail to follow raised expectations, the potholes just seem deeper.

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