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Thousands Of Crumbling Sidewalks Going Unfixed

CHICAGO (CBS) -- It's not hard to find cracked, broken and crumbling sidewalks in Chicago. Just about every neighborhood has problem and sometimes dangerous sidewalks and it's likely to get worse with budget cutbacks threatened by the mayor.

In response to complaints from frustrated property owners, the 2 Investigators checked out just how long people have had to wait to get their sidewalks repaired.

As 2 Investigator Pam Zekman reports, the pounding of a jackhammer is a welcome sound in a Southwest Side neighborhood one late summer day. To the neighbors who live there it means their sinking sidewalk is finally being replaced.

It's a sound some Chicagoans have been begging to hear for years.

"I've been calling, oh about three years, for someone to please help us," said Lillie Riley.

"I've been trying to get my sidewalks done for 20 years," added Shawnta Finley.

"I just don't get a response, I consistently try to get them repaired but nothing happens," complained Jupiter Angulo.

The cracked sidewalk outside Riley's home is so bad it's causing people to fall. Just a couple of weeks ago Sheila Johnson was walking down that sidewalk near 105th Street and Eggleston Avenue when she tripped on a piece of the broken sidewalk.

"That's when I went down and fell and went over in the grass," Johnson recalled. She had been out exercising her artificial knee at the time of the fall. Now, doctors tell her that, because of the fall, she has to have another knee surgery.

"I shouldn't have to go through another surgery. This is more painful for me now to have another surgery on the same knee," Johnson said.

Last year, Chicago officials received 12,596 requests for sidewalk repairs.

Of those, 971 were fixed and then the city replaced another 172 blocks of sidewalks as part of their regular maintenance – an effort that left thousands of sidewalks in disrepair.

"I had to take things in my own hands and get things done myself," said homeowner Shawnta Finely.

She said she waited 20 years for the city to repair her cracked and crumbling sidewalk. Finally, she asked a private contractor to fill in the cracks.

"That's not fair that I pay taxes and can't get my sidewalks done." Finley said.

The Angulo family operates a small grocery store on the 2800 block of East 87th Street.

Jupiter Angulo worries that the cracked sidewalk in front of their store is driving business away. He says his family has repeatedly called the city asking for the sidewalk to be repaired.

"It's a really nice store, as opposed to the sidewalks, which should represent how the store looks," Angulo said.

The 2 Investigators have learned that, over the past three years, the city has paid out $3.5 million to people injured by broken sidewalks.

Michael Surratt received one of the largest settlements – $375,000 – after tripping on a hole and falling on a downtown sidewalk.

"I literally broke my neck. My doctors said if I had moved the wrong way in any direction, I'd either be dead or paralyzed," Surratt said.

Surratt's attorney, Adria Mossing, said the accident was compounded by fact that the city of Chicago knew there was a problem with the sidewalk where Suratt fell.

"We found out that there had been multiple 311 calls to the city in the very area that Mike fell," said Mossing.

"That's negligence on the part of the city. It's dangerous. They should have had it repaired," Surratt added.

A spokesman for the City Department of Transportation said officials review each 311 call for a sidewalk repair and, depending on how bad the damage is, work is scheduled – starting with the worst sidewalks.

The city says the sidewalk in front of the Riley home wasn't that bad when they were first contacted about it. It was replaced last week by city workers, just days after the 2 Investigators made inquiries.

The CDOT spokesman said that, if you don't want to wait to have your sidewalk fixed, you can speed up the process by paying half the cost of the repairs. It's part of their 50/50 program. It costs property owners about $3 a square foot. Work through the shared cost program is done by private contractors.

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