Potholes another speed bump in quest to improve Austin

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As Austin resident Renna Thomas makes her daily trek up Austin Boulevard toward North Avenue, she’s constantly driving around potholes. The potholes are so deep in some spots they’re more like speed bumps.

“It’s crazy to me because you spend more time dodging potholes than you do driving,” Thomas said.

She says she’s seen city workers drop asphalt into potholes but not come back to finish the work.

“My niece said in certain areas of Austin, they put sandbags in potholes.” Thomas said.

Thomas, a longtime home owner, said the property taxes she pays each year are supposed to help pay to repair potholes.

“If you go out to the suburbs, their streets are paved,” Thomas said. “But you come over here in the Austin area, and the whole street is torn up, and that’s just unacceptable.”

According to data from the city of Chicago, there have been nearly 30,000 requests to repair potholes since Jan. 1., and according to a recent Chicago Tribune story there have been more than 47,000 requests since Dec. 1.

As of March 25, there were 8,941 pothole requests still needing to be fixed citywide; about 1,700 potholes were repaired between March 17 and March 21, according to city records.

Twenty-nine of those were repaired in the 60644 zip code area, and 19 were fixed on Austin Boulevard between I-290 and North Avenue. Likewise, 40 were fixed in the 60607 and 60651 zip codes, and another 58 were filled in the 60639 area. (Though the last three zip codes include parts of Austin, the 60644 zip code makes covers only Austin.)

City data show that some neighborhoods have had more potholes repaired than Austin. For instance, there were 110 repairs made in the 60614 zip code, which is Lincoln Park, during the same time period.

Elce Redmond, an organizer with the South Austin Community Coalition Council, said it’s not right that some parts of the city get more attention than others.

“People are really up in arms about the extent of these potholes,” Redmond said.

He said residents are tired of waiting on the city to fix their streets, so his organization plans to fill some on its own.

“We’re looking to do something very drastic,” Redmond said. “We’re not waiting for the city anymore; we’re going to fix the potholes ourselves.”

He said the work will begin once a block is selected.

“We have all the materials,” Redmond said. “But we want to ensure there are a lot of neighbors who will come out to support the effort.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has blamed this year’s skyrocketing number of potholes on the harsh winter, making it difficult to repair the streets. Since the beginning of the year, the mayor’s office has issued several press releases solely addressing the issue, three of which were sent out in March alone.

Emanuel has pledged to extend the current street paving program into the summer to insure streets get restored. Normally, this program would end at the end of May.

That means the Chicago Department of Transportation will be focusing on repairing main streets for the rest of the winter, according to the mayor’s office. Streets that are not heavily used will not receive as much attention until after all the main roads get repaired.

“We are adjusting our tactics to address the biggest pothole problem areas in the city that affect the most people,” Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfield said in a March 10 press release.

AustinTalks tried unsuccessfully to reach both Ald. Deborah Graham (29th) and Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) about how the West Side is faring this winter.

While Thomas appreciates a local nonprofit will be helping to repair Austin’s roads, she said residents should not have to fix the potholes.

“Property taxes are high, and that’s what should be paying for the city streets.”

To report a pothole, click here or call 3-1-1. 

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