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2 Investigators: Costly Pothole Patchwork Didn’t Last

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One Chicago neighborhood got a long-sought pothole patch job, but the work didn't last. Neighbors say the work method was faulty. (CBS)

One Chicago neighborhood got a long-sought pothole patch job, but the work didn’t last. Neighbors say the work method was faulty. (CBS)

Pam Zekman Pam Zekman
Pulitzer-prize winning reporter Pam Zekman serves on CBS 2 Chicago’s...
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CHICAGO (CBS) – How much did a subpar pothole patch job cost taxpayers?

That’s what a CBS 2 viewer asked after watching a city Department of Transportation crew at work and later seeing the job did not stick.

For years, Michael Braun and his mother have been asking the city to fix potholes in their Edgebrook Wildwood neighborhood on the city’s Northwest Side.

They say they never got a response.

Neighbors like John Zielinski agree.

“What needs to be done is this street needs to be repaired,” Zielinski says. “The response we get is there are no funds.”

But in April, a five-man city crew showed up to shovel asphalt into the potholes. Braun took photographs showing how the workers threw the asphalt into a hole but apparently failed to press the material down.

“Within two, three days it’s gone already because it’s not matted down,” Braun says.

As Zekman checked out the work, homeowner Jim Hough stopped to express his frustration about the city workers.

“They come in, they put down cold asphalt,” Hough says. “They don’t roll over it, so immediately when cars come by it picks it back up and spits it all over the side of the road.”

A city spokesman said the total cost for the crews’ salaries and materials that day was $1,743.

Asked how he would rate the job, Hough offered this assessment:
“Absolutely, ridiculously poor, at best.”

What’s more, only part of their streets was ever properly paved. That problem won’t be corrected during this summer’s repaving job because the cost is too prohibitive.

There are troughs along the curbs that fill up with water during rains.

The streets in that area were done as part of a Depression-era project and did not include sewers or curbs. It would cost an estimated $650,000 per block to fix all that.

Forty-first Ward Ald. Mary O’Connor, who was elected a year ago, says she is using her office’s discretionary funds to at least have some of the streets repaved this summer.

“The taxpayer has every right to be aggravated and frustrated,” she says of the faulty patchwork Zekman investigated. “I wish they would have contacted my office and we would have called CDOT and asked them to go back and fix this work.”

A CDOT supervisor checked out the work and agreed some potholes were not properly tamped down.

However, a CDOT spokesman also says workers are supposed to leave a slight mound so that when cars drive over the patches they don’t sink below the grade of the street.

He said the crew worked hard that day, filling 224 potholes.

As for the size of the crew, he said typically four city workers are assigned to pothole patching. A fifth was assigned on the day the photographs were taken because he was an odd man out for that shift.