Whomp! See which Edmonton neighbourhoods complain the most about potholes
City has already made 669,000 pothole and asphalt repairs so far this year
Potholes in Edmonton are — Whomp! — a common enemy to everyone who uses the roads.
On neighbourhood streets and major arterials alike, potholes can cause flat tires, destroy wheel rims and wreak havoc on a vehicle's suspension, costing drivers hundreds or even thousands of dollars to repair.
They pose safety hazards to cyclists and pedestrians alike. Push a stroller through a pothole and — Whomp, again! — nap time is over for your sleeping baby.
As of Oct. 29, City of Edmonton crews had made 669,159 pothole and asphalt repairs this year. That's up more than 53,000 from the 615,321 repairs in all of 2020, which itself saw more fixes than in any of the four preceding years.
On average, the city has done more than half a million pothole and asphalt fixes each year over the past five years.
Since 2019, the city has worked harder at a "proactive approach" to finding and fixing asphalt defects before they are reported by the public, a city spokesperson told CBC News. Crews are now out fixing potholes year-round, and crew shifts are longer.
Meanwhile, many Edmontonians are using the 311 app, the city website, email or telephone calls to bring potholes to the city's attention.
CBC looked at 311 data showing every pothole complaint entry from 2016 through 2020.
The data shows that on average, 7,912 potholes are reported each year. Not all of them get fixed. Some are not found, or work is deferred because road work is happening soon in that area.
Neighbourhood pothole profiles
Two busy city neighbourhoods consistently showed high pothole complaint numbers: Strathcona and Downtown.
"The volume of road users has a direct impact on the number of notifications received as well," Eduardo Sosa, director of infrastructure maintenance with the City of Edmonton, said in an email.
"The city does prioritize areas with higher traffic volume, [like] business improvement areas and arterial roads."
Here are the top 50 pothole-complaints neighbourhoods from 2016 to 2020. Scroll over the interactive maps to view the numbers:
Each citizen complaint sparks a visit from a city crew to investigate. There are sometimes multiple complaints about a single pothole; CBC removed them from our calculations for better accuracy.
Reporting potholes had been trending upward from 2016 through 2019, but dropped significantly in 2020. The city has a couple of ideas about why.
"The 311 mobile app has made it easier for residents to report potholes. In the first five days of its launch on June 10, 2019, the city received 3,957 pothole notifications," Sosa said. "It was nearly a three-fold increase from June 2018 when the city received 1,285 pothole notifications for that same time period."
Complaints dipped in 2020 compared to 2019. The city attributes that shift to lower traffic volumes, since many commuters had shifted to working from home because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year, reports of pothole problems are also down. The city attributes this to its proactive approach to finding and fixing fix road defects before they get reported by citizens.
"Potholes are inspected and prioritized based on safety," Sosa said.
The city considers several factors when deciding on how to deal with potholes:
- Road type and traffic volume.
- Size and severity of the pothole.
- Location in the roadway.
The city has set service targets for fixing potholes, but cautions they can change on factors such as location, weather conditions, limited resources and other roadwork priorities:
- Potholes in high-priority locations are inspected within 24 hours and repaired within two days.
- In lower priority locations, they are inspected within five days and repaired within a month.
- Potholes in alleys are inspected within two weeks and repaired within a year.
Springtime is prime time
Potholes are especially prevalent in spring, thanks to the damaging effects on asphalt of repeated freeze-thaw cycles.
"Overall, climatic factors are one of the key contributors to the occurrence of these kind of defects on the road," Ali Bayat, a professor in the University of Alberta's department of civil and environmental engineering, said in an interview.
It stands to reason, then, that complaints are similarly tied to the time of year. Months during spring melt — April, May and June — consistently have higher numbers of notifications from citizens.
Sosa noted that Edmonton has experienced more freeze-thaw cycles in recent years.
Potholes often begin as a simple crack in the pavement. When vehicles drive over the crack in winter, snow and water find their way in.
After a few freeze-thaw cycles, the crack expands and can cause a pothole, said Leila Hashemian, an associate professor in the U of A's department of civil and environmental engineering.
"The more [cycles] we have, the more severe [the problem] would be," Hashemian said.
The future of roads
Hashemian and Bayat both cited a need for bolder, bigger thinking about future road and pavement design.
While many technological advancements are being made in vehicles and other aspects of transportation, the roads themselves can tend to be overlooked, Bayat said.
"I think road infrastructure is very important. But perhaps we don't pay that much attention really to [roads] and we kind of have similar roads that we had over the past 50, 60 years, right?
"We haven't seen that something revolutionary happening."
Bayat said there needs to be more data collection on potholes and road issues so that pavement designers, city planners and others can have better information on the problems.
Information that could be collected would include the date of repair, the materials used and how long the fix lasted.
"How do we want our future roads or future road infrastructures to be?" Bayat said. "If you ask, probably we don't want potholes, we want the road probably to be smart, telling us when they need repair, we want to spend less on them and be more comfortable."
Hashemian said future solutions will need to account for an increasing number of vehicles on the road, and the impacts of climate change.
"Basically we need some sustainable solutions for improving and enhancing the quality of the whole pavement," she said, "not [just] the surface and potholes."
The city's budget for all asphalt road maintenance in 2020 was about $11.2 million. For 2021, the budget is $10.3 million and the city is on track to spend the full amount.