Recent wild weather created even wilder roads this week in the Chicago area, creating a pothole epidemic as bad as road crews have ever seen.
Potholes forced temporary closings to allow for patching on stretches of area tollways Tuesday, and rolling closings are expected to continue on roads across the region today.
The extreme conditions prompted the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority to take the unusual step of asking for the opening of an asphalt plant in Franklin Park. Asphalt plants typically close during the winter because it's too cold to use hot asphalt, but a rare spell of dry, warmer weather made it possible, tollway spokesman Mike King said.
Hot asphalt binds much better than cold asphalt patches, which often get scraped up by snow plows and have to be replaced the next day.
Road crews temporarily shut down parts of the northbound I-294 and the southbound ramps from the Tri-State to the Jane Addams Tollway. The ramps are undergoing reconstruction that's due to finish next year, but need patching in the meantime, King said.
Likewise, while westbound I-88 has recently been repaved, and had no potholes, the eastbound lanes from Lisle are still being rebuilt and are riddled with potholes. Crews had filled some holes, but lengthy stretches of cratered roads still remained late Tuesday.
The Illinois Department of Transportation had 45 crews out in Cook and the collar counties Tuesday, and had put out 179 tons of cold patch on Monday, spokeswoman Marisa Kollias.
"The pothole season has started a few weeks early this year," she said.
Last year was the worst year for potholes in at least a decade, but Kollias said this year is slightly worse.
County and municipal road crews were taking advantage of the warm weather to make cosmetic repairs as well. Three crews were dispatched in DuPage County on Monday laying down 12 tons of material to fill potholes. Two crews were back at it Tuesday, said transportation and operations director John Kos.
Kos said the county is proactive when dealing with potholes.
"We don't just field calls, we're out there patrolling," he said. "We're not just attacking them as we get calls."
In Lake County the axel busters haven't been widespread. Two patching crews were dispatched along with four roving pothole patrols, said Kevin Kerrigan, Lake County Transportation Department maintenance engineer. The county just received 20 tons of patching material.
Naperville Director of Public Works Dave Van Vooren offered tips to avoid the divots while his crews made fixes on the city's main roads and neighborhood streets.
"The key to avoiding potholes is to provide adequate space between your car and the car in front of you so you can see the road and be prepared to make adjustments," he said. "Slowing down a little bit is a benefit. The faster you go, the more the impact on the tire and opportunity to break the seal on the rim and create a flat tire."