Drivers sound alarm after deep potholes set off airbag on James Bay Highway

Quebec drivers are calling for repairs to the James Bay Highway which they say is riddled with potholes that could cause serious injuries.

Quebec drivers say it's only a matter of time before someone is seriously injured

Jerry House was travelling north on the highway with his brother, sister and mother when their car hit a pothole setting off the vehicle's airbags. (Submitted by Jerry House )

Drivers along the James Bay highway in Northern Quebec say it's only a matter of time before someone gets seriously hurt by potholes deep enough to trigger an airbag.

Jerry House was travelling north on the highway with his brother, sister and 70-year-old mother around 7 p.m. on April 29 when their car hit a pothole between kilometres 134 and 136.

"It sounded like a shotgun went off," he said.

There were no warning signs, House said, and his brother was driving the speed limit, between 90 and 100 km/h. He also said his brother couldn't avoid the pothole because of an oncoming 18-wheeler.

"At first we were shocked when the airbags went off. My sister was not injured and as for me, (I) had a big bruise on my right shoulder," he said.

House ended up needing an X-ray to make sure he wasn't injured more seriously.

Jerry House said he was left with a large bruise on his right shoulder after the car his brother was driving hit a pothole on the highway that set off the vehicle's airbags. (Jerry House )

He is still waiting for the final repair bill for his vehicle, but was told it will be close to $2,000.

"I'm just glad no one got hurt and I'm especially glad my mom didn't sit on the right side of the vehicle," he said.  

'It almost threw me on the other side of the road'

Just the day before, Sandra Mianscum Icebound from the Cree community of Waswanipi was also driving north on the James Bay Highway in the early morning hours near kilometre 106.

She was taking three of her grandchildren to Waskaganish for the Goose Break holiday — a time when Cree families head out on the land to hunt geese returning to the territory. It was 3:30 a.m. and the children were asleep in the minivan, along with her son and another child, she said.

"There was no marker on the road," Mianscum Icebound said, adding the pothole blew both of the right side tires of her vehicle and bent the rims. "It almost threw me on the other side of the road. Good thing there was no car coming."

The 55-year-old said the group had to wait on the side of the highway until 7:30 that morning for a tow truck to take them to the nearest community of Matagami.

Sandra Mianscum Icebound with her grandson Jarvis, 10 and son Marcus, 27. They were driving north on the James Bay Highway near kilometre 106 on April 28 when a pothole blew both tires on the right side of her minivan and blew the rims causing damages totalling $900. (Submitted by Sandra Mianscum Icebound)

"They should fix the potholes for the safety of our children and grandchildren that are traveling there often," said Mianscum Icebound, adding she worries someone will eventually get hurt.

Mianscum Icebound had to rent a vehicle to continue the trip and leave her minivan behind for repairs, at a total cost of $900.

The James Bay Highway is 620 kilometres long and serves more than 11 thousand people, including several Cree communities, according to the Société de développement de la Baie James (SDBJ), which owns and maintains the road on behalf of the Quebec Transport Ministry and Hydro Quebec.

The poor state of the road is the subject of much discussion on social media, where a Facebook page has been dedicated to road conditions and warning other travellers where the worst potholes are.

Raymond Thibault, the chief executive officer of the SDBJ, admits the highway is in rough and even dangerous shape in some spots. He said crews have been out since the beginning of May doing temporary repairs with cold asphalt, but people should still drive carefully. 

"The type of repairs we are doing are temporary," said Thibault, adding that after a day or two of rain the repairs need to be redone. "I recommend that people drive with caution."

A pothole at kilometre 178 with a traffic cone was shared on the James Bay Highway Road Conditions Facebook page by Lawrence Jolly in 2016 as a warning to future motorists. (Lawrence Jolly/Facebook )

Thibault did say more permanent help is on the way at the section of the highway where both House and Mianscum Icebound had issues.

In 2017, the federal and provincial governments announced it was investing more than $265 million dollars to repair and repave close to half the surface of the James Bay Highway between now and 2021.

Thibault said the work slated for this year includes $60 million to replace more than 60 culverts and repave more than 118 kilometres, including the section between kilometres 88 and 200. A total of 11 bridges will also be repaired and repaved and guard rails replaced between kilometres 120 and 200.

The work is expected to begin near the end of June, according to Thibault.

In the meantime, he invites people to report where the worst potholes are located to the SDBJ.