Thunder Bay Potholes – Solutions or Patches?

New York has far more depth to their roads.
New York has far more depth in the ashphalt on their roads.
Pothole Repair Crew
Repair crew last summer repairing a pothole on Brodie Street South.

Long Winter and Cold Spring Hard on Roads

THUNDER BAY – It is the start of pothole season in Thunder Bay. As the freeze and thaw cycle of spring continues as snow melts, high traffic roads and many roads across the City of Thunder Bay start to break up. In addition to wrecking roads, potholes can damage vehicles, knocking wheel alignments out, or in some cases knocking wheels out of alignment.

Drive almost any street in our city, and the condition of many roadways show the impact of winter in our city.

Potholes form and bust up our roads. Here is one where the manhole is too high to drain.
Potholes form and bust up our roads. Here is one where the manhole is too high to drain.

Thunder Bay, we are assured by our city council are investing heavily in our roads. Yet across the city, many are expressing concern over how a new roadway will be installed or re-surfaced and then weeks later have to be opened up to install or repair a watermain. Those efforts open new roads to potholes and seemingly un-needed damage. Especially if not properly repaired.

Not a pothole, but a brand new sidewalk already falling apart. Justice Lane beside the brand new Court House
Not a pothole, but a brand new sidewalk already falling apart. Justice Lane beside the brand new Court House

Potholes form on our roadways as water goes into the cracks and then following the freeze and thaw cycle on a daily basis starts to degrade the surface.


Potholes happen when:

  • Moisture seeps into the pavement and sub-base, freezes, expands, and then thaws.
  • The freeze – thaw cycle weakens the pavement.
  • Traffic loosens the pavement even more.
  • Pavement crumbles and pops out.


Spring temperatures warm the cold pavement during the day.
Snow melts and resulting water flows into the pavement and freezes during the cold night.
Freeze/thaw cycle continues throughout the spring.
Freezing and thawing each day creates voids under the pavement.
This eventually causes the pavement to break up.
A winter of heavy snow or rain and many freeze/thaw cycles can create conditions leading to a significant pothole season ahead.


Maintenance crews are constantly on the lookout for potholes, but the City welcomes citizen calls too. If the pothole is on a city street, contact the Roads Division Dispatch at 625-2195 days, after hours or on weekends.


It depends on where the pothole is located. If it is located on a very busy street, it will be repaired more quickly than potholes on less traveled streets.

Thunder Bay Pot Hole Repair

In cold weather:Repairs are made using a “modified” cold patch asphalt. One of the characteristics of the modified cold patch is its ability to wick any water out of a pothole. This wicking characteristic can speed up the repair process and make it more permanent.

In warmer weatherHot asphalt and compaction rollers are used to seal up shallow potholes and cracks in road pavement. This preventative maintenance helps to stop potholes from forming in the spring.


High-traffic roads have more potholes than other roads due to the sheer weight and volume of traffic.


Roads today are being built to reduce their moisture capacity. Researchers are developing a better, more durable pavement. Cold patch asphalt is also being improved to last longer.

How to Really Repair Potholes

One of the issues that causes roads to break up is not putting the needed investment into the road in the first place. In Northern climates, roads undergo a lot more stress, but not the same kinds of stresses that roads in major cities undergo with far greater traffic levels.

New York has far more depth to their roads.
New York has far more depth to their roads.

In Thunder Bay the depth of the asphalt is far less. it means roads have to be repaired far more often.

This is a pothole that formed last summer in Thunder Bay on Brodie Street.

From the issues with some of our streets, in many cases residential streets, take a drive through River Terrace for example, the roads are cracked down the centre. That means during the freeze and thaw cycle in spring, as well as fall, water gets down the roadway and starts to deform the roadways very quickly. Those issues are caused because of a lack of proper compaction of the entire road surface before the asphalt was laid down.

Repairing pot holes by patting down asphalt picked up in the morning when it is hot, and packing it down with shovels seems very primitive and ineffective. Unless the long term strategy is job security and higher taxes, there should be better methods and newer ideas used in our city.

Solving the issue, perhaps by ensuring that roads are built more for northern climates, and for a longer life will cost a little more up-front. In the long run however, Thunder Bay will get what it paid for.

Over the long run, taxpayers will get greater value for a job done with longer life to the roads.

Besides, your car, your back and your teeth not being jarred by our ‘cattle trail’ roads will appreciate it.

James Murray

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