Study says no ‘magic bullet’ for fix­ing pot­holes

Winnipeg Free Press - - NEWS I CANADA -

OT­TAWA — Mu­nic­i­pal and pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments in Canada are all look­ing for bet­ter ways to deal with their grow­ing pot­hole prob­lems, but none is prop­erly track­ing whether the re­pairs they do now are ef­fec­tive over time, says the author of a soon-to-be com­pleted study on the road­way men­aces.

And few ap­pear pre­pared to spend the money nec­es­sary to en­sure what they shovel into the car-crip­pling craters lasts un­til longer-term road re­pairs can be per­formed, en­gi­neer Dave Hein says.

“Ev­ery­body says they’re try­ing new things,” says Hein, who calls pot­holes “very per­sonal” for the count­less driv­ers who have to pay for new wheel rims and tires and to fix bent sus­pen­sions af­ter en­coun­ter­ing them.

“Ev­ery­body’s look­ing for the magic bullet, and no­body’s got the magic bullet,” says Hein, prin­ci­pal en­gi­neer at Ap­plied Re­search As­so­ci­ates, Inc., which was com­mis­sioned by the Trans­porta­tion As­so­ci­a­tion of Canada to un­cover bet­ter solutions to pot­hole re­pairs.

The as­so­ci­a­tion stud­ies tech­ni­cal is­sues re­lated to roads, high­ways and ur­ban trans­porta­tion.

“No­body has per­for­mance mea­sures,” Hein added in an in­ter­view with The Cana­dian Press.

“And no­body even tracks to see if what they are do­ing is per­form­ing bet­ter than some­body else.”

Cities and towns, along with pro­vin­cial and ter­ri­to­rial gov­ern­ments, have been ex­per­i­ment­ing with dif­fer­ent ma­te­ri­als and new tech­nolo­gies to tackle pot­holes.

The cities of Ot­tawa and Thun­der Bay, Ont., Cran­brook, B.C., and Mon­treal are among those that have ex­per­i­mented with a pot­hole-fill­ing ma­chine called the Python 5000, which me­chan­i­cally fills cracks and crevices in road­ways — work nor­mally per­formed by man­ual labour­ers — in ef­forts to speed re­pairs and en­sure they are done uni­formly.

Oth­ers have tested a va­ri­ety of hot and cold mixes of as­phalt and other ma­te­ri­als, hop­ing they find some­thing bet­ter than what has been used in the past.

The City of Toronto, which mainly uses hot mix as­phalt, re­ported fill­ing nearly a quar­ter-mil­lion pot­holes with the ma­te­rial in 2018, an in­crease over the pre­vi­ous two years but a sig­nif­i­cant de­cline from 2014.

Mon­treal re­ported fill­ing roughly 122,000 road cav­i­ties last year. In Saska­toon crews dealt with 100,000 of them, while Ed­mon­ton re­ported patch­ing 600,000 pot­holes. Hein said he was un­able to ver­ify the numbers.

Cities us­ing the hot mix, which also in­clude Van­cou­ver, Cal­gary and Regina, per­formed bet­ter than those us­ing other meth­ods, said Hein, while oth­ers, such as Yel­lowknife and Saska­toon, ap­peared to have had less suc­cess us­ing al­ter­na­tive ma­te­ri­als.

Ul­ti­mately, though, how long a pot­hole patch lasts de­pends on how the job is done, Hein said.

“It’s not what we put in the pot­hole, it’s how we put it in the pot­hole,” he con­cluded.

Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties can do a bet­ter job fill­ing pot­holes by prop­erly train­ing their em­ploy­ees — and giv­ing them a lit­tle ex­tra time to do the work, he said.

“Clean­ing and pre­par­ing and tack coat­ing, where you put a lit­tle as­phalt ce­ment around the out­side and proper com­paction all leads to bet­ter per­for­mance,” Hein ex­plained.

“It’s the ex­e­cu­tion of the work.” Re­gard­less, hole re­pairs will only last any­where from a few days to a year.

No mat­ter what ma­te­rial or labour is used, fill­ing a pot­hole is only a tem­po­rary fix. Re­ally re­pair­ing a fail­ing road means resur­fac­ing it all.

Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties agree on the need for bet­ter train­ing and meth­ods for fix­ing pot­holes, Hein said. What they ap­par­ently don’t agree on is pay­ing for it.

“There’s a dis­con­nect in this coun­try be­tween con­struc­tion of new in­fras­truc­ture and main­tain­ing ex­ist­ing in­fras­truc­ture,” he noted. “The new stuff gets high pri­or­ity. The main­te­nance stuff, that’s not sexy.”

Some mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties are also find­ing them­selves bogged down in re­spond­ing to so­cial-me­dia com­plaints about pot­holes, rather than ac­tu­ally mak­ing the re­pairs.

“So­cial me­dia is blow­ing things way out of pro­por­tion,” be­cause mu­nic­i­pal politi­cians over­re­act to posts about pot­holes, Hein ex­plained.

“So (road crews) are not do­ing engi­neer­ing work, they are re­spond­ing to politi­cians be­cause of what they saw posted on Face­book.”

Hein’s fi­nal re­port to the as­so­ci­a­tion is due in April.

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