O'HARE — The Chicago Department of Transportation will use "strike teams" to address the city's growing pothole epidemic, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Monday.
"Spring is breaking," the mayor said in a streetside news conference in the O'Hare neighborhood in the far northwest corner of the city. Toward the end of one of the harshest winters in city history, Emanuel added, "Mother Nature decided to leave nothing but pothole ruin on the streets of Chicago."
According to Emanuel, pothole crews of seasonal laborers began filling the holes a week earlier than normal this year. He added six pothole crews to make 30 total, and for the next few weeks at least they'll work two days a week in a geographical grid focusing on arterial streets, "addressing potholes in the city's 1,055 miles of major thoroughfares," the city said in a news release.
"Crews like this can get more done on a strike-force basis," Emanuel said, adding it would be "more efficient" and "more effective" at filling the potholes and keeping them filled.
The crews will work on main-street potholes every Monday and Friday. Some 25 crews will address potholes reported to 311 on side streets Tuesdays through Thursdays, according to Transportation Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld, and six crews will work weekends.
Scheinfeld acknowledged that some potholes would have to be filled and refilled as temperatures rise above and fall below freezing, but said, "It comes down to safety."
"Folks are talking about it, rightfully so," the mayor said.
Emanuel denied that the initiative was meant to address voter concerns ahead of his expected run for re-election next year.
"I'm addressing this because I'm concerned about it," he said. "There are some potholes that literally chew up a tire. What I want to do is make sure we're on top of our game."
Emanuel added that city residents "expect a smoothly paved street, and I expect us to work at delivering that."
The announcement came several days after Emanuel said an audit is being conducted on arterial streets with potholes that were paved by private contractors last year. Contractors would be forced to either reimburse the city or repair their work "under quality-assurance warranties," a spokeswoman for the mayor said.
"The audit is ongoing," Emanuel said Monday, adding that it had already turned up "a couple examples" of poor paving where independent contractors will be called on to make repairs.
Emanuel also touted a "more robust" citywide paving program he first announced last month.
On March 1, the Department of Transportation added six additional crews to combat the rough roads. The extra crews are projected to fill 25,000 more potholes. So far in 2014, the department has filled more than 240,000 potholes, Scheinfeld said. The city filled 625,000 all of last year, and Scheinfeld added the city was "well ahead of that rate for 2014 already."