Falling light poles throughout the city of Chicago over recent years caused by rust and corrosion have continued to be an issue, a longstanding CBS-2 Chicago investigation has revealed.
In the past five years, there have been numerous reported instances of falling poles, which in the most severe cases have caused severe injuries and expensive damage to property such as vehicles. It is believed that the extent to which many poles have corroded has been hidden by the fact that decorative plastic box-shaped coverings have been installed at many of their bases, as city repair workers and Illinois Institute of Technology professor and materials engineer Dr. Sammy Tin have posited.
Expert's, workers' warnings and suggestions not enough
Since 2015, Tin has assisted investigators writing reports on the issue and warned at the time that the poles could be "subject to accelerant and corrosion" as a result of the moisture accumulated in the coverings from inclement weather conditions with snow or rain. Salt used on sidewalks and on roadways also becomes trapped in the structures. That year, records obtained showed that there had been over 300 calls regarding "fallen or leaning" light poles and 49 of those calling having reported injuries since 2013.
Since 2015, there have been more than 10,000 complaints for pole problems including those outside of schools and businesses, and the city has invested more than $63,000 for minor damage (including legal settlements) caused as a result of falling or otherwise broken light poles, recent reporting shows.
CBS investigator Dave Savini compiled a list of the city's wards with the most reports of corroded light poles during this time frame:
1. 28th: 376 (Ward heard on complaint that involved a broken concrete base)
2. 42nd: 353
3. 5th: 336 (Ward had reports of rusted poles in the University of Chicago campus)
4. 27th: 331
5. 41st: 327 (Ward is located near O'Hare International Airport. Poles identified included those outside Taft High School, which caused concern for one bus driver)
To properly address and avoid the issue and any resulting headaches, Tin advised years ago that the structures be regularly maintained. That year, investigations revealed corrosion in hundreds of light poles, which prompted the city to fix them.
"(Installing plastic coverings is) a way of just basically covering up the ugliness of the rusted base," she told the outlet.
Recent falling pole incidents result in injury, damage to SUV
Within the month of November, there were at least two documented instances of falling poles that directly affected city residents. Near the end of the month, Chicago Department of Transportation crews inspected light poles outside the Thompson Center, even removing several structures observed to have been rusted. These actions were taken in response to the most recent falling pole at the location, which hit one woman – who was then transported to a hospital by ambulance with unknown injuries. The incident happened on LaSalle Street, and photos of the toppled structure showed evidence of rusting at the base.
The day after the incident, CDOT told CBS that they were looking into what caused the pole that hit the woman to have been so corroded and confirmed that they conduct inspections of the poles and base encasement structures. In 2015, the department confirmed that light pole repairs are prioritized based on which ones pose the most imminent danger, with an average of 50 being fixed on a weekly basis.
Earlier in the month, a man narrowly avoided sustaining any injuries when a light pole crashed through his windshield and totaled his SUV while driving to work in the snow, leaving the vehicle in pieces, CBS reported. In response, CDOT quickly picked up the fallen pole, yet did not repair or replace the structure.
Following the ordeal, the man said that he was concerned, especially due to the fact that the pole could have fallen on passersby such as children walking to school.
"You can tell that that piece of telephone pole is rusted as all hell," he told the outlet. In 2015 when the investigation began, a pole fell on a thirteen-year-old and broke her neck. In response, the city paid her family $600,000 in damages. Further reporting at the time yielded evidence of "bad poles" outside a number of schools in the city.
"You would figure if you've been reporting it this long, that the city would have done something about it," Martinez further stated.