Elgin officially opens 311 center in time to handle post-cold snap calls
By Mike Danahey firstname.lastname@example.org @DanaheyECN January 13, 2014 4:30PM
What drivers throughout the area are dealing with post-freeze: the emergence of potholes. These are located along Stevens Road between Silver Glen and McDonald roads near South Elgin. | Mike Danahey/Sun-Times Media
The 411 on 311
For more information on the Elgin 311 system and how to report issues, see www.cityofelgin.org/DocumentCenter/View/41201.
Updated: February 15, 2014 6:15AM
ELGIN — With last week’s wild mood swing of weather — beginning with record-setting cold and ending with seasonally mild temperatures and rain — Monday was as good a day as any for the official unveiling of the city’s 311 call center.
Concerns, complaints and requests of all-but-emergency sort are being routed through the center, which also issues tracking numbers so the residents involved and the city staffs in question can more efficiently keep tabs on what is to be done and how long it winds up taking to do it.
Monday morning, 311 Citizens Services Director Colby Basham said during the first two hours, the center had received about 50 calls. According to Basham, three staff members started work at 7 a.m., with another three beginning at 8 a.m. By the end of the work day, 398 calls had been taken with the average time on each call being 2 minutes, 6 seconds.
Many of the calls on opening day morning dealt with garbage collection issues due in large part to the weather — cans cracking or breaking, and routes missed as Waste Management adjusted its schedule because of the severe cold. A number of calls also concerned street flooding, requests for extra road salting, and potholes.
“A lot of standard stuff for this time of year,” Basham said.
City Manager Sean Stegall originally had planned to have the center completely up and running on Dec. 9. But with all the bugs and trouble the federal government has been having launching the Affordable Care Act, Stegall wanted to be completely sure Elgin’s 311 program was ready for a full-scale launch, so the city put the system through a beta testing period.
Stegall said that he has been visiting the center to see how it is running. Friday’s miscellaneous calls included someone looking to get a rat out of a basement, someone who wanted to know if it was lawful to clear a neighbor’s sidewalk of snow, and someone concerned about possible overcrowding in a nearby residence.
During 2014, eventually all but parks and recreation department and 911-type emergency calls will be handled through 311, although the call center also will be able to route parks and 911 calls. In fact, one reason behind having the center is to lessen the load on the city’s 911 system for public safety emergencies, Stegall said. The center’s current hours are 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
“While we officially opened Monday, it’s a rolling opening. It’s not a static launch,” Basham said.
To that end, Basham said there was further training on aspects of the system set for Monday afternoon and a launch for smartphone and tablet apps in coming weeks, as well as a portal on the city’s 311-related Web page. Basham said residents also can email in a matter to email@example.com.
Once the center is fully running, when someone contacts the city, that particular issue will link to other city matters pending for that person. It also will allow those who handle the request to get quickly up to speed by reading through the electronic files about the inquiry and what has been done to that point to address it.
Elgin’s 311 center is a pilot project for cloud computing company Salesforce. Stegall said the 311 software has cost the city about $550,000, with the build-out another $150,000 or so.
As for weather-related issues being addressed by Elgin, Basham said, while that there are potholes to be fixed — such as those on Center Street downtown — Elgin’s are not anywhere near as bad as Chicago’s.
Public Works Superintendent Dan Rich said potholes are appearing thus far at about the same number as in past tough winters. Duncan Avenue near the Interstate 90 overpass and a good stretch of McLean Boulevard are two areas with a significant number of holes to be patched, with main roads having those most noticeable to drivers.
Rich said the department’s approach typically is to get to potholes on those streets first, then head to patch the potholes on side streets, unless there is a significant situation in need of immediate attention. Crews have been out since Thursday making repairs.
Drainage problems are contributing to forming potholes, Rich said.
Potholes are caused by the expansion and contraction of ground water that gets under pavement — a process also affected by salt use.
Water expands when frozen, weakening and then cracking the pavement material. When the ice thaws and the thermometer rises, it leads to gaps under the pavement where water gets trapped. With water freezing then melting over and over again as it did over the weekend, the pavement weakens and cracks at a faster rate.
Vehicles passing over these weakened spots knock off the asphalt, leading to potholes.
Rich said the public works department allocated about 400 hours of overtime Friday and Saturday alone for work that included further plowing and salting as icing became a major concern.
From Nov. 1 through Jan. 11, plow drivers logged about 70,000 lane miles, Rich said. For that same time period, public works crews have used about 6,600 tons of salt and 77,000 gallons of a beet juice “super mix” that allows the salt to better do its job.
“We roll over what salt we have and try to keep at least 1.3 times the amount we need based on projected weather,” Rich said. “We’re fine with salt right now, with several thousand tons in storage and more on the way.”
As for the amount of money the city has spent dealing with the recent bad weather, Stegall said payroll information was due Monday, so he expected to have a better handle on those numbers by Wednesday.