Pothole season is here
Pothole season is here, and its a doozy.
Days are getting longer, the sun is stronger. You are driving along with Spring in the air. Then, thunk! A bone-shaking road crater jolts you. Welcome to pothole season. We apologize for disrupting your relief that winter is finally loosening its icy grip. Its a reminder to be alert and steer around the seasonal harsh reality on the road.
Giant patches of heaving pavement are a menace to drivers and can do significant damage to vehicles. A 2016 study by Canadian Automobile Association of North and Eastern Ontario estimated vehicle repairs due to pothole damages cost $1.4 billion per year. More than 50% of drivers experienced damage to their vehicle.
Plus, potholes put the safety of all road users at risk. We ask why do they happen every year? What can be done to stop this costly seasonal scourge?
Pothole season as Canadian as Maple Syrup
Tapping sugar maples for sap needs daily temperature swings. Rising daytime temperature of about 5C, then dipping to 5C below freezing at night, is considered perfect for the annual maple syrup harvest. Freeze and thaw cycles and the largest sugar maple forest in the world make Canada, Quebec specifically, the world’s leading producer of sweet liquid gold.
Ups and downs of spring weather are also ideal conditions for road surface failure. Corrosion from road salt and damage from snow plow blades also contribute to the sorry state of our roads this time of year. So we blame the weather and accept that pothole season is a fact of life in Canada.
Swerving to avoid them is not always safe or possible without putting yourself, your passengers, or others on the road at risk. Hit one, and you may need new wheel rims, tires or a fix for a bent suspension.
Avoiding political potholes with hard hats and blitzes
Municipalities struggle to keep up with the road repairs. They have many holes to fill. Just look at these (unverified) 2018 pothole stats.
Vision Zero pedestrian safety campaigns are missing targets. Congestion penalties are accumulating in Canadian cities. Funding and building transit is slow. Potholes must be fixed. Signaling action is being taken, mayors and city staff can be seen donning hardhats and doing photo-ops (as Andrew Clark wrote in the DRIVE section of a recent Globe and Mail: “On mayors and the endless battle against potholes”.)
There are solid reasons for touting weekend blitzes. Communicating where disruptions are planned, to show things are getting done, and to encourage constituents to resist the urge to tweet to their city councillor. Actions like these help to deflate the frustration of road users, and get the repair job done quicker.
Potholes are not an easy fix
Automotive repair shops like the extra business fixing damage caused by potholes. Instead of filling holes and fixing cars, we should be designing and building more resilient road infrastructure. But in the interim, doing a better job of repairs is key.
We discovered there is both art and science to fixing potholes.
Filling cracks and crevices mechanically is being tested in cities such as Ottawa, Montreal, Thunder Bay, to Cranbrook, BC. A self-propelled pothole-filling machine called the Python 5000, is a labour saving option. It can speed up repairs and ensure they are done uniformly.
Hoping to find something better than what has been used in the past to fill road cavities, municipalities have been testing a variety of hot and cold mixes of asphalt and other materials.
Ask the pothole expert
Dealing with pothole problems is costly for municipal and provincial governments across Canada. Finding better ways to fix potholes is one solution. Training employees and giving them enough time do do the work can help too. More can be done, like tracking repair methods and durability.
That is why the Transportation Association of Canada commissioned experts to identify better solutions to pothole repairs. Assessing performance of methods and materials is a focus of the study’s chief engineer Dave Hein. He says there is no one ‘magic bullet’ solution, but there is room to improve tracking performance of pot hole repairs, and sharing of best practices. Like most repairs, how long a pothole patch lasts depends on how the job is done.
Permanent solutions to the perennial pothole season
Still, we have to accept that no matter how good the fix, pothole repairs only last from a few days to a year. Maintaining road infrastructure is often under funded, compared to higher priories building new road infrastructure. Plus Hein says,
The maintenance stuff, that’s not sexy.
He observes municipalities sometimes over-react when road users take to social media and blow things out of proportion. Instead of the road engineering work, they are coerced into doing knee-jerk fixes that won’t last. We’re hoping Hein’s report due to the Transportation Association in April will prove to have long term potency in pothole prevention and better repair.
We encourage you to Be Alert for those road craters. Give repair crews room to do their job safely. Did you know? Be Alert is also our theme for a new road safety products (ask us for a sample or more info.)
Meanwhile, bask in the knowledge Spring is here and the thaw also produces the tasty syrup to pour on a fluffy stack of pancakes. While researching this story, we learned a lot about potholes, and also found out flavourful liquid gold is good for you. Pure maple syrup is high in antioxidants, and minerals, offers nutrients like riboflavin, zinc, magnesium, calcium and potassium…and has fewer calories than honey. Delicious.