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We have certain traditions for summertime in Chicago: the Crosstown Classic, the Taste, and construction. We all know about construction season in the city, and while most of us mark it by standstill moments with our bumper-to-bumper fellow motorists, it is also concretely marked by potholes dotting the roadways.

Potholes give us a reason to welcome construction work. Given their potential for causing dangerous accidents for both cars and bikes (and everything in between), potholes merit immediate attention. Unfortunately, they are often ignored as “more pressing” matters take precedence. But as something that doesn’t just cause expensive damage to our vehicles, but can also prompt accidents (and therefore injuries), potholes are more than a cosmetic problem.

If you suffer damage to your vehicle as the result of a pothole problem, you are entitled to compensation. The Chicago Tribune recently pointed out that, if your damage occurred on the city streets, you have up to one year from the date of accident to file a claim with the city clerk’s office; you can obtain a claim form here. When reporting the damage, it’s important to give specifics, including a description of the damage, how it occurred, and a police report. Photographs of the damage are also helpful. Your claim will be investigated, and if deemed valid, the city will pay half the cost of repairs up to $2,000. Why shouldn’t all of your damage be covered? Finance Committee spokesman Donal Quinlan claims, “The logic is the driver may have had some chance to avoid the damage.”

So, how big of a problem are potholes for the city? According to the Chicago Reporter’s analysis, the Chicago Department of Transportation spent $10 million on pavement maintenance projects in 2007 and filled more than 270,000 potholes. That’s a lot of pavement. What many of us don’t realize, however, is how great an expense it is to fill these potholes. With skyrocketing gas prices, everyone needs to cut back, and that includes the city.

CNN reports that many local governments have to scale back on services in order to make ends meet; road repair is a prime example. In a recent survey by the National Association of Counties, 81% of counties reported that public safety is the area most affected by rising fuel costs. Beyond the pressure of higher gas prices, it also costs more to repair the roads. Why? Because asphalt is made largely from oil, and the price for its main component has ballooned more than 90% since last year.

Translation: expect more dangerous roadways. As a result, be extra aware of your surroundings, your fellow motorists, and construction workers toiling to fix the problem. There may be more potholes in your path, but that doesn’t obstruct your ability to exercise good driving habits.

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