‘Like the car went down a ditch’

As he and his wife sat stunned in their sedan on the side of the inbound Kennedy Expressway Sunday night, Bucktown resident Joe Mariola was grateful to have lost only one tire and rim.

a man riding on the back of a car: Joe Mariola with his flat tire Monday, Sept. 28, 2020 he says was caused by a patchy section of the Kennedy Expressway on Sunday.

© Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune/Chicago Tribune/TNS
Joe Mariola with his flat tire Monday, Sept. 28, 2020 he says was caused by a patchy section of the Kennedy Expressway on Sunday.

The driver of a BMW who pulled up in front of Mariola’s black 2012 Acura TL about five minutes after Mariola’s own flat about 6 p.m., just before a sign for Nagle Avenue in the Union Ridge neighborhood, wasn’t so lucky.

All four tires on the BMW were flat, apparently the result of a rough patch of road left behind following construction, Mariola said.

“This guy was like, what do I do? And I’m like, ‘Yeah, you’re going to have to call a tow truck,’” said Mariola, who was able to remove his own damaged front driver’s side flat and install a small spare. “And then we noticed in the next mile or two, there was another 10, maybe 15 even, cars on the side of the road with their hazards on.”

The Illinois Department of Transportation, in charge of expressway construction projects, was called to the area about 3 p.m. Sunday after being made aware of “a roadway defect in the left lane,” according to an email from state police Trooper Genelle Jones.

But Jones said there were three vehicles reported to have suffered flat tires from the defective road. Video from the scene shot by Mirola’s wife shows at least a half-dozen cars on the side of the road.

The two left lanes of Interstate 90 from Harlem Avenue to the the Edens Expressway were left with potholes “as part of an ongoing resurfacing project,” in which “a contractor was milling the left two lanes on I-90 … to prepare the roadway for repaving,” according to an email from Illinois Department of Transportation spokeswoman Maria Castaneda.

Castaneda said the potholes developed after the road was reopened to traffic. The department was made aware of the issue about 3 p.m.

Mirola said it seemed clear there had been construction in the area because the top layer of asphalt appeared missing. He didn’t see any signs regarding the road’s condition but said even had it been clearly marked it would have been too late to spare his vehicle.

“We were just driving down 90 and then all of a sudden I mean there’s a massive, out-of-nowhere drop. Like the car went down a ditch and the roads were so like unpaved and undone and immediately I heard air coming out of the tire,” he said.

Mirola said he and his wife were returning to Chicago after having dinner with his in-laws in Schaumburg.

“The contractor had a crew on-site by 6 p.m. repairing the potholes with a temporary cold patch. They will be back on site (Monday night) completing the repairs with a permanent hot mix patch,” Castaneda said.

Beginning Tuesday night, she said, workers were expected to begin repaving the expressway at Harlem, working toward Foster.

Castaneda said the department of transportation will work with motorists who believe their vehicles were damaged. Claims can be made with IDOT online.

Mirola said he believes his damaged tire remains under warranty, so he is hopeful he will be able to get it replaced for a nominal fee. Still, he said, it’s disappointing losing so much time dealing with a problem he feels was caused by the state.

“If we saw that many (damaged vehicles) just in the short time we were stuck out there, how many other people got flat tires?” he wondered. “It just kind of all-around stinks.”

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