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Odds about 1 in 399, you'll get reimbursement for tollway pothole
In Transit
By Marni Pyke | Transportation Writer

Watch out if you hit a pothole and hope for reimbursement for the damage it does to your car: If it's on the toll road and you're the first to report it to the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority, you're likely out of luck.


Dave Tonge

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Published: 6/21/2009 12:03 AM

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If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

And more importantly, if a pothole exists on the tollway and no one knows about it, who is ultimately liable?

Not the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority, apparently, to the chagrin of Dana and Mark Hellgeth.

It was a dark and snowy night Jan. 6 when Dana pulled onto I-90 westbound heading home to Huntley from work in Schaumburg.

She drove slowly because of the weather, when she hit a pothole near the Route 47 exit.

And then another. And then another. And then she got a flat.

"It wasn't just one pothole, there were potholes all over the place," Dana said. Her car has tires that allow for limited driving on a flat so she was able to limp home but she was still shaken up.

The end result was a bill for $1,133 for a new tire, a new rim and a wheel alignment.

A huge chunk of change but the Hellgeths had hopes they could get reimbursement from the tollway. They did all the right things - filing a report with state police, filling out a claim form Jan. 28 and submitting copies of the repair bill.

In an April 10 letter, the tollway acknowledged there was a pothole at milepost 30.5 on westbound I-90. But because it had no prior knowledge of the problem, it wasn't responsible.

"Since in your situation we did not have any notice of problems of any kind being caused by a pothole before the date and time of your incident, or the Tollway was not afforded a reasonable amount of time to correct the situation, the Illinois State Toll Highway is not legally liable for your loss," an insurance claims adjuster wrote Dana.

Tollway spokeswoman Joelle McGinnis noted that the policy isn't new and the agency does not accept responsibility for incidents where liability isn't clear and circumstances including weather and unreported road conditions, are beyond their control.

"The tollway has been very diligent about making repairs," McGinnis said, adding the agency did emergency repaving on I-90, I-88 and the Tri-State this winter when cycles of freeze and thaw created havoc with pavement. "We don't wait for the customer to call."

Interestingly, the tollway received 399 claims for potholes this winter season. Forty-five claims are still under consideration but so far the total pay out has been - one - or less than 1 percent.

To the Hellgeths, it's not fair. Just because they were the ones to discover the pothole shouldn't mean they get stuck with the bill for the damage.

"It's so frustrating," Mark Hellgeth said, adding his family was being punished for being "Columbus" and discovering the pothole. "We're the ones paying to use the road."

Readers write

I had to include Bolingbrook resident Cheryl Miller's response to a June 14 column on distracted driving about a tragedy that happened to her in Naperville. She wrote: "My son, Adam, was killed Nov. 15, 2008 by a distracted driver who never touched his brakes and admitted that he was looking down. He never showed remorse. Why should he?! The court gave him a ticket. I refused to accept this. I wrote a letter to Secretary of State Jesse White and after an initial denial of my request to suspend the convicted offender's license, I was told by Jesse White that his license will be suspended for six months starting June 12, 2009. My requests for him to do community service and repeated drivers education were denied. In six months time he will be driving again. I will never see my son again."

Flotsam and jetsam

• Tollway Chief of Administration Tracey E. Smith is becoming the latest top staffer to depart. Former Executive Director Brian McPartlin and Chief of Staff Dawn Catuara quit in late 2008. Meanwhile, Smith is leaving her $148,000 job for the private sector because of personal and professional reasons, a spokesman said. Although Gov. Pat Quinn threatened to overhaul the tollway after taking over from disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Smith's move is unrelated, officials from both the agency and governor's office said. She has worked at the tollway for six years.

• The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning is asking the public to participate in its Go To 2040 plan that maps out the region's future. Upcoming interactive workshops include: 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday at the DuPage County government center, 421 N. County Farm Road, Wheaton; 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday at Naperville city hall, 400 S. Eagle St.; 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday at the Crystal Lake city hall, 100 W. Woodstock St.; 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. July 15 at Waubonsee Community College, Academic and Professional Center, Route 47 at Waubonsee Drive, Sugar Grove; and 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. July 21 at the Gail Borden Public Library, 270 N. Grove Ave., Elgin. For information, contact

• The tollway is hosting a Family Safety Fair with free child seat inspections, a car care clinic, K-9 demonstrations and entertainment from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at their headquarters, 2700 Ogden Ave., Downers Grove.