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Here Are Some Reasons Why Pothole Season Is An All-Year Affair

By Chuck Sudo in News on Oct 17, 2014 3:35PM

Pothole season, especially under the Emanuel administration, has become a never-ending affair, as budgets tighten and city road crews are tasked these days with handling multiple job descriptions under new labor deals.

Crain’s Chicago Business columnist Greg Hinz recently looked at why the city is having such a hard time getting ahead of the pothole scourge and how it can get worse as autumn makes way for winter. What Hinz found is those initiatives and accomplishments Emanuel loves to brag about in press releases and sound bites are contributing factors in Chicago’s streets turning into urban moguls.

Hinz found many of the crews tasked with patching potholes were pulled from their jobs and added to crews repaving 350 miles of side streets this summer. That is a record number of side streets that received a facelift, but it resulted in scores of potholes not receiving the attention they deserved. Hinz notes the side streets that were repaved were usually the ones needing the most attention.

So where did the city find money for these projects? It took a little bit of creative economics and a new approach to repaving arterial streets. Transaportation Department deputy commissioner and chief engineer Dan Burke told Hinz:

Before (2012), he says, when the city repaved main, or arterial, streets it always went through a two-step process. First, it would lay down a layer of rather coarse asphalt to form a smooth base, known as a binder course. That's kind of the road equivalent of putting down a primer coat when you repaint your living room. Then, a few days later, the city would come back and apply a final layer of asphalt.

Under Emanuel, CDOT has simply done away with that binder course. Using only one layer of asphalt has made repaving streets faster, but they require more frequent maintenance, especially when Chicago is in a deep freeze. Ergo, more potholes, more complaining about potholes, a record number of pothole damage claims and CDOT unable to fill them all.

Not everyone at CDOT agrees with the new policy and, this being Chicago, once a few aldermen start grousing about it, CDOT could reverse course and start using two coats of asphalt again. Consider this another example of the Emanuel administration building a new Chicago atop the crumbling infrastructure of the current one.