Chicago potholes
Photo by bradhoc, via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Steer Clear of Potholes in Chicago

Chicago’s bone-chilling winter has not only been taking a toll on our bodies, but also on our streets.  These days, potholes on Chicago streets can seem as prevalent as beanie hats on Chicagoans’ heads. And with the drastic weather swings we’re having—from polar vortex wind chills in the 40-below range to a balmy day in the 50-above range—the pothole problem is only getting worse.

During winter, when snow and rain seep into the road’s cracks, it freezes and expands, then on a warmer day (or, possibly “a less cold day” is more accurate), it melts, leaving what we know as a pothole. And with the number of cars on Chicago streets, the weight and frequency only adds to the street’s stress—meaning bigger potholes and more of them.

And they’re hard not to notice—driving on a pothole-filled street feels more like driving on the crater-filled moon. Besides the bumpy ride, these holes can lead to lead to flat tires, bent rims and suspension, alignment and steering issues, according to the Car Care Council. 

The City of Chicago takes potholes seriously. In January, the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) filled more than 100,000 citywide potholes, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation. By the end of last year, CDOT repaired more than 625,000 potholes, according to a press release from the mayor. The city’s 22 pothole repair crews work seven days a week and had used 1,000 tons of asphalt to patch the holes by Jan. 17, according to a City of Chicago press release. And this year, because of the severe weather, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has ordered that the weekend shift start earlier than last winter.

This year also marks the city’s first Pothole Tracker, which launched in January. Now, you can track the potholes in your neighborhood or on your commute. Chicagoans can check out what potholes have been filled over the course of the week in their neighborhoods and across Chicago. On the site, you’ll see a speckling of blue dots—each one is a resident-reported pothole that CDOT crews patched. Click on the blue dot to find out when it was completed and the number of other potholes repaired on the same block.

Chicagoans can report potholes by calling 311, going to the city’s website, or using smartphone apps like SeeClickFix and Chicago Works. Once you report, you can check the Pothole Tracker to see when the pothole gets repaired.

Even though the city has repair crews patching daily, there are still potholes on Chicago’s streets, and it’s still the dead of winter. Drive cautiously, and try to swerve out of the way or slow down as you drive over a pothole, if you can.

If you’ve bounced over a pothole, immediately check your car for any major damage. According to the Car Care Council, here are a few warning signs to look out for after a run-in with a pothole:

  • Steering and suspension snafu: If the car’s ride and handling seem off, or the car sways when making turns, get the steering and suspension checked.
  • Alignment issue: If your car is pulling in one direction instead of driving in a straight path, or you notice uneven tire wear, there may be a tire alignment issue.
  • Tire trauma: If you notice low tire pressure, bulges or blisters on the tires, or dents in the rim, your recent run-in could have damaged your tires.

Should damage happen to your car because of a Chicago pothole, you can file a claim with the City of Chicago and could be reimbursed for the damages. You’ll need to file a police report for the incident that resulted in the damage, according to the City of Chicago. From there, you can complete and sign a Damage to Vehicle Claim Form, include a copy of paid receipt for the repairs (or two written estimates for the cost of repairing the damage), and a copy of the police report, according to the City of Chicago.

In the meantime, keep your eyes peeled for potholes, and report the ones that need fixing, fast. The City That Works is working hard to minimize potholes and increase road safety, but there are still many holes to fill, as winter’s not quite over.

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