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Master of Potholes: Meet Interim Transportation Commissioner Tom Carney

7:56 PM CDT on May 21, 2019

Pothole art by Jim Bachor at 5223 West Argyle in Jefferson Park. Photo: flickr user GMX

First, a confession. For nearly two decades I have either worked at the Chicago Department of Transportation (as bike parking program manager in the early-to-mid 2000s) or reported on it. But I don't recall ever hearing the name of Tom Carney, the gentleman Mayor Lori Lightfoot just announced will be serving as interim transportation commissioner now that former CDOT chief Rebekah Scheinfeld has hit the road (although, AFAIK, not literally like her erstwhile boss Rahm Emanuel.) Carney, who was Scheinfeld's first deputy commissioner, will hold the fort while Lightfoot searches for a new commish.

So who exactly is this guy? CDOT spokesman Mike Claffey wasn't immediately able to provide  info about what Carney has been doing at the department, so I did a little detective work. According to Carney's LinkedIn profile he has recently been in charge of CDOT's divisions of In-House Construction, Infrastructure Management, and Sign Management.

In-House Construction, with about 700 employees, is responsible for building, maintaining, and repairing Chicago's alleys, bridges, curbs, gutters, sidewalks, streets, and viaducts. Carney was recently in the news discussing the new Albany Park Tunnel, which has so far been successful in its mission of alleviating flooding on the Northwest Side.

Infrastructure Management, with roughly 75 workers, serves as the city's main agency that coordinates construction work, oversees annual and multi-year construction schedules and plans, issues construction and street permits, and inspects job locations and issues tickets for permit violations. So they're the folks that we should be lobbying to do a better job of addressing sidewalk and bikeway obstructions caused by construction projects.

Sign Management, aka the Sign Shop, with a crew of about 50, is responsible for making and installing street signs, traffic signs, and various other signs used by the city.

Tom Carney
Tom Carney
Tom Carney

It's not surprising that Carney hasn't been on my radar since, aside from the permit enforcement issue, he has mostly handled meat-and-potatoes infrastructure responsibilities that aren't typically the kind of thing we cover on Streetsblog. But I've been missing out, because a Google News search revealed that he's the city go-to guy for discussing street resurfacing issues with the media in a pithy manner. The man is a regular poet of the pothole.

I found a veritable Carney-val of Tom Carney quotes from February 4, when the city announced that, in the wake of the Polar Vortex followed by a warmer spell, CDOT would be declaring an all-out war on potholes, with repair crews hitting the streets seven days a week:

"We'll be very busy; there are a lot of requests coming in. That temperature change and the moisture change really opened up some holes in the streets." (WGN)

“It certainly doesn’t do the pavement good to have these 50 degree temperature swings. But it’s where we have a series of them, multiple times during the week, is where we see the worst of the worst pothole conditions. The moisture seeps into the pavement. That moisture then expands and contracts with the freezing and the thawing and over time, it deteriorates the roadway.”  (CBS Chicago)

"We're going to be very busy, but we're ready for it. This is what the department of transportation does. We pride ourselves. We fill potholes better than any other city and we're ready to take on the challenge." (ABC Chicago)

As you can see from these quotes, Carney clearly has strong leadership ability, and he's obviously a man of action. Therefore, until Mayor Lightfoot selects a permanent CDOT chief, I have complete confidence that Chicago transportation will be in good hands. Godspeed to you Acting Commissioner Carney!

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