Mayor Rahm Emanuel has announced five different approaches in the past two months aimed at smoothing over the scourge of potholes that pock Chicago streets.
There's good reason the data-driven Emanuel has been fixated on crumbling pavement: City Hall has received about triple the number of pothole complaints compared with the previous two winters.
The 47,227 complaints since Dec. 1 are the result of an unusually brutal winter when extended periods of subzero temperatures, heavy snows and the plowing and salting that followed put more stress than normal on roads. The craters are also costing the city more money, both to respond to the outsized number of pothole beefs and to pay claims for damaged cars.
- Video: Pothole problems persist in city
- Pothole strike team
- Video: Avoiding potholes in Chicago
- Photos: 2014 Chicago potholes
- Your photos: Chicago's potholes
- 2010-2012 chart: Chicago's pothole and streetlight repairs
See more photos »
- Video: Emanuel on potholes tearing up streets
- Video: 'Strike teams' to tackle potholes
- Highway and Road Transportation
- Chicago Weather
- Rahm Emanuel
See more topics »
Chicago is a city where mayoral competence is measured in part by winter performance: Survive months of snow removal, and spring brings the challenge of filling potholes. It's a quality-of-life issue that has the potential to do some political damage along with the shredded tires and bent wheels it causes some drivers to endure.
To that end, Emanuel has pressed to show the city he's trying to keep up with caving asphalt. The mayor's press operation has sent out 10 pothole-related announcements since Jan. 10 to highlight everything from more street crews working extended hours to fill potholes to a Web page featuring a map showing where streets have been patched.
Emanuel also has taken a few shots at a foe who has responded only with more snow and cold: Mother Nature.
“As spring is breaking, and you can see that, Mother Nature has decided to leave nothing but pothole ruin on our streets throughout the city of Chicago,” Emanuel said Monday before alluding to what he inherited as mayor. “Everybody is seeing what Mother Nature left. It also shows you the wear and tear and how old our streets are.”
The mayor also turned to some military rhetoric, saying he'd deploy “strike teams” to strategically fan out and fill potholes on the major thoroughfares. The city isn't adding more crews, but it will have them focus on the busiest roads on Mondays and Fridays instead of just responding to keep up with complaints on the 311 line.
“They can get more work done going down a longer part of the street in the main areas of the city,” he said.
The pothole push began Jan. 10, when the administration said that three of the city's 22 pothole crews, made up of five or six workers, would begin working weekends. That same day, Emanuel press aides offered a photo opportunity with the mayor greeting workers as they filled potholes on West Taylor Street.
A week later, Emanuel unveiled the city's new “pothole tracker,” an online map showing where crews had completed work. A couple of weeks later, City Hall announced it had filled its 100,000th pothole of the year.
On Feb. 22, Emanuel said he would bring six seasonal pothole crews back to work earlier than usual, and a few days later the mayor's office said crews had filled their 200,000th pothole. Last week, the mayor announced he had sought an audit of streets recently repaved by private contractors to determine whether any potholes had formed that the city could require them to pay to fix.
Emanuel's focus on potholes came as the city received an extraordinarily high volume of complaints about shoddy road conditions. The mayor has stressed using statistics to better deliver city services, and a Tribune review of the city's data on 311 calls shows the root of the mayor's cause for concern.
From Dec. 1 through Sunday, Chicago's 311 call center had received 47,227 complaints about potholes, more than triple the 15,641 calls the city received for the same period in 2011-12 and far more than the 17,468 complaints it got during the same time frame last winter.
While the last two winters had more mild conditions, this year's complaints are still more than double the 21,482 from Dec. 1, 2010, through March 9, 2011, the winter that featured the Groundhog Day blizzard.
This winter, Shelley Morrison said she's had to perfect a kind of driving slalom while trying to avoid potholes on Ashland Avenue.
“The other morning I was going to the grocery store, so I left early, and if a Chicago police officer had seen me, he would have pulled me over for drunk driving I was swerving so much,” Morrison said.
The Lakeview resident said she understands the winter has been rough but thinks the city has neglected some of its roads for too long. “Some of these potholes have been around since last summer and now they're getting bigger and bigger,” she said.
Of the 47,227 pothole complaints the city has received since Dec. 1, more than 28,878 are listed as resolved while an additional 18,349 have not been addressed, according to city figures.
In January, city Inspector General Joseph Ferguson released an audit that concluded the Emanuel administration presented inaccurate results of its pothole-filling performance that made it appear the city was doing a better job than it was. Still, Emanuel's administration met its target of repairing potholes within 10 days 73 percent of the time, Ferguson found, slightly better than the rate of 72 percent under previous Mayor Richard M. Daley.