Chicago area's pothole problems run deep

Transportation officials plan to resurface worst roadways first

Repeated wild swings in temperatures this winter are speeding up the deterioration of Chicago-area roads and leading to an early pothole season, with a few months of freeze-and-thaw cycles yet to come.

Pick a street, just about any street — from Green Bay Road in the north suburbs to 95th Street on Chicago's Far South Side — and you'll find vehicles taking a beating from fractured pavement.

Like a triage medic on a battlefield, officials at transportation departments in Chicago, the suburbs and at the state level have started mapping out strategies earlier than usual to fix the worst, most highly traveled roads first, before money runs out.

The Illinois Department of Transportation, which is responsible for maintaining state-designated routes in the Chicago area, had already completed most of the resurfacing projects in IDOT's fiscal 2014 road improvement budget before winter, officials said.

Resurfacing projects that remain for the spring include Harlem Avenue from the Stevenson Expressway (I-55) to 63rd Street in Chicago; Green Bay Road from the Wisconsin state line to Illinois Highway 173 in the Zion area; and Foster Avenue between St. Louis Avenue and the bridge over the Chicago River branch east of Albany Avenue in Chicago, IDOT said.

Additional repaving work will depend on whether money becomes available as the result of lower-than-expected bids on currently funded projects, IDOT spokeswoman Jae Miller said.

"Projects will also be prioritized for inclusion in our upcoming fiscal 2015 highway improvement program starting July 1," Miller said.

Facing a much larger need than its budget can address, IDOT is focusing on providing more durable temporary road repairs until more money becomes available to schedule more resurfacing projects, Miller said.

But even those repairs must wait until spring, when asphalt plants resume production of hot-mix asphalt pavement, she said. Currently, pothole repair crews are limited to using cold-patch asphalt, which does not adhere as well to existing pavement as the hot mix does.

Since the beginning of the year, more than 67,000 potholes in Chicago have been filled using about 1,300 tons of cold-patch material, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation. The work amounts to more than 10 percent of the 625,000 potholes that CDOT filled in all of 2013, officials said.

"Still, I would say that pothole season isn't necessarily worse than other years, it just came earlier than usual due to the multiple freeze-thaw temperature fluctuations and large amount of moisture in the form of rain and snow,'' CDOT spokesman Pete Scales said.

As the Tribune reported last year, CDOT has improved coordination on street-resurfacing projects with the Chicago Department of Water Management and utility companies, to minimize the need to dig into new pavement. The city estimated that $14 million was saved by scheduling utility and roadwork in proper sequence.

A comprehensive list of 2014 street resurfacing projects in Chicago is still being finalized.

"They are all still in the planning stages, and it's undetermined yet which ones will fall off the to-do list,'' Scales said. Also, "the aldermen still have to choose which residential streets will be done, and that's about 100 miles,'' Scales said.

CDOT did provide the Tribune with a partial list of resurfacing work that will take place this year, based on poor pavement conditions, as well as planned city sewer and water-main replacement projects. Those projects, which will cause significant traffic disruptions, are highlighted on the map accompanying this column.

Nearly 700 miles of streets and alleys in Chicago have been resurfaced since 2011, including 289 miles last year, according to CDOT. Chicago has about 4,000 miles of streets.

CDOT and the utilities plan to resurface at least 175 miles of city streets and alleys this year, officials said.

Contact Getting Around at jhilkevitch@tribune.com or c/o the Chicago Tribune, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60611; on Twitter @jhilkevitch; and at facebook.com/jhilkevitch. Read recent columns at chicagotribune.com/gettingaround.

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