Spring Has Brought on a Pandemic of Potholes

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Potholes at Park Street and Cumberland Street South
Potholes at Park Street and Cumberland Street South

By Shane Judge
THUNDER BAY – OPINION – Spring has brought on a pandemic of potholes. We dodge and weave past them like we’re driving the Curva Parabolica at the F-1 race track in Monza, Italy.

It’s become dangerous.

In fact, our roads have become death traps for shock absorbers and wheel rims. I know. I paid the price of the funeral.

Blame it on the freeze-thaw cycle created by a La Nina winter.

Or, is it also the case, as one national study of urban roads concluded, that poor quality control, inadequate inspection, a lack of consistency and uniformity in design, construction and maintenance practices are a big part of the problem as well?

City council’s immediate response to the outrage of drivers was to pull an extra $1.8 million from reserves to preserve road repair projects that were otherwise going to be postponed until next summer.

This was necessary because the road department’s plans for 2022 were trashed like the right strut on my vehicle. Bids for city road work and sewer works are coming in 10 per cent higher than budget estimates. Asphalt prices alone are coming in 15 per cent higher than last year’s contract prices.

I believe the approach needed in road maintenance in Thunder Bay is at an inflection point. We need a change in direction. It’s clear that as costs escalate we are falling further and further behind in life-cycle maintenance. How do we get out of this death spiral?

I believe the city must gain better control of the quality of its road maintenance. My priority would be the construction of a municipally-owned asphalt plant plus the purchase of grinding and paving equipment.

To spread the risk and create scale, the city should begin talks with surrounding municipalities about their interest in joining a consortium to share the capital and operating costs.

Meanwhile, council should direct administration to put together a go-it-alone business case.

A municipally-owned pavement company could ensure high quality products from its plant. There would be a vested interest in making sure the asphalt and its underlay met specifications. You can fire an employee for poor performance. Contractors, on the other hand, seem to be able to get away with pothole murder.

In fact, there’s a vested interest in private-sector companies seeing a shortened life cycle for pavement. Broken pavement means more contracts….and bigger profits.

When money is tight, we should all be big believers in infrastructure priorities. The safe, quick movement of goods is a priority for our city’s economy. Until now we’ve been privatizing the costs of poorly maintained roads with mechanic’s bills. This has got to stop.

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