Potholes lead man down rabbit hole of disparity on Halifax road repair

Nathan Lewis's continuous pothole problems have always been fixed by the city until this year, when he was surprised to learn what classifies a legally-accepted street in Halifax.

Armdale resident frustrated by answers from city's 311 service, despite showing proof of past repairs

The larger of two potholes that Nathan Lewis wants repaired on Knob Hill Crescent is about about three-quarters of a metre wide and 15 centimetres deep, he said. (Submitted by Nathan Lewis)

A Halifax resident says his pursuit to get potholes on his road fixed has revealed the municipality's loosely interpreted rules when it comes to street repair and the surprising number of streets affected by them. 

Nathan Lewis, 32, has lived in the same house in Armdale his whole life, having assumed ownership from his parents last year. On June 27, he said he opened a case file through the city's 311 phone service for the repair of two potholes in front of his home on Knob Hill Crescent. 

It's the same process his family has followed to success for several potholes in the past, he said. But this time, he hit a bump in the road. The 311 agent explained his was not a legally-accepted street the city wasn't required to fix unless the disrepair impeded emergency services. 

"All this information that I've been told is all brand new to me," Lewis told CBC in August, adding he wasn't given other options to pursue repair. 

Proof's in the Street View

Lewis said he escalated his case file through 311. He also took to Google's Street View tool to prove the city had followed through on pothole fixes before. 

A screenshot of Google Street View shows potholes in 2014. (Google Street View)

The family's last request was made in 2014 when Lewis's parents still owned the house. Street View shows the potholes unfixed in 2014 and then smoothed out by the next year when Google took another pass.

"I remember and my parents also remember it being fixed at the time," he said. 

Lewis said all past requests made by his family were successfully resolved in about a month.

The 2014 potholes are covered by a repair job in this 2015 Street View image. (Google Street View)

What is a non-accepted street?

A search of Knob Hill Crescent on the city's street directory indicates ownership as NA — a street constructed decades ago to a different standard or built by a developer as a private road. In the 1960s, those streets became a public right-of-way, but the city has limited its ownership of them since amalgamation. There are about 100 across the municipality. 

When CBC inquired about Lewis's case file on Aug. 19, a Halifax spokesperson said Lewis would be contacted and the potholes fixed "over the next few weeks." They said that surface repairs to non-accepted streets will "typically" get done, mainly to save plows from damage in winter. 

Almost three months after his original request, Lewis said he hasn't been contacted and is still waiting. He said he's called 311 again, but was given the same spiel. 

'We should be making residents aware'

Lewis's councillor, Shawn Cleary, said the two met to discuss the problem. Nearly one third of the city's non-accepted streets are in their district, some of which Cleary said are "no better than goat paths that have been paved."

"If you live on one of these streets, most of the time people moving in don't know they're moving to an accepted or non-accepted streets. They wouldn't have any thought they should check on that," Cleary told CBC on Saturday. 

District 9 Councillor Shawn Cleary wants council to take a serious look at improving consistency when repairing non-accepted roads. (CBC)

He said the city is inconsistent about its approach to repairing non-accepted streets, which has frustrated other residents like Lewis. 

"Sure they have a rulebook. But it's in the interpretation of the rules," he said. 

Cleary said he wants the city to take a serious look at the issue of non-accepted streets at a council level — something he said has never been done. He'd like to see a staff report reviewing the costs of maintaining them.

"We should be making residents aware of it more often because we've been amalgamated for over 20 years."

Repairs in limbo

Lewis said he understands his case file isn't a pressing issue, but that it's not the size of the problem that matters. He wants consistency. 

"The city can take their time to repair these potholes, it's just the whole who's responsible for maintenance on this road that's my concern," said Lewis. 

About the Author

David Irish


David Irish is a reporter and digital editor for CBC Nova Scotia. He has a keen interest in issues affecting towns and rural communities in the province. Contact him with story ideas at dave.irish@cbc.ca.