Watch out, 'peak pothole' season looms

March is typically the busiest month for City of Ottawa pothole repair crews, and although residents have begun to report broken roads, one local auto shop says we haven't seen the worst of it yet.

Auto repair shop says city still about 2 weeks away from 'peak pothole' season

Joanne Steventon stands in what she calls a 'human-sized' pothole near her home in Old Ottawa South. (Stu Mills/CBC)

It's pothole season in the city, and for municipal road maintenance crews, March Madness is about rims — but not basketball rims.

They will spend this month patching and levelling 6,000 kilometres of roads across the city to try to save wheels from destruction.

March is easily their busiest month.

Last March, crews received 1,273 requests to fill potholes. By April, the next busiest month in the calendar, requests had fallen to 762.

"This time of year is typically the worst for road conditions," explained a City of Ottawa spokesperson in an email.

Auto shop preps for spring flood of repairs

As spring arrives and temperatures fluctuate back and forth across the freezing point, Ottawa's roads experience the destructive cycle of expansion and contraction of brittle, frozen asphalt. The city sees about 80 freeze-thaw cycles a year, per a five-year average. 

Meanwhile, more powerful rays of sunshine melt ice that has, for weeks, concealed cavities in the road.

Early this month, those cavities began showing up everywhere, but one local wheel-alignment veteran said "peak pothole" is still about two weeks away.

"There's a lot of damage a pothole can do," said Sandro Giaccone, manager at Frisby Tire, where they are preparing for an avalanche of alignment work.

Sandro Giaconne points to the suspension components vulnerable to pothole damage. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Bent or broken rims, blown tires, ball joints, stabilizer links, struts, springs, wheel bearings, and control arm bushings are all vulnerable, he said.

Suspension repairs, which can easily blow past the $1,500 mark, are often discovered by car owners later in spring, when winter tires are swapped for summers, Giaconne said.

"I say to everybody, just keep your distance from the guy in front of you and assume every puddle has a pothole in it."

Pedestrians also have pothole problem

But potholes can be dangerous to pedestrians, too, as Ryan Lovie discovered this week.

Tuesday night, the Old Ottawa South resident, who uses canes to help him walk, returned to his building near Grove and Bank streets in the darkness and lost his footing in a roadway crater.

"Took a face plant right in the middle of the street," he recounted. "It's the footing, it's ice, it's a combination of Ottawa winter weather — it's brutal," he said.

Ryan Lovie stands in front of a roadway crater where, on Tuesday, he took 'a face plant.' (Stu Mills/CBC)

When it comes to which potholes get fixed, there's evidence that it's the squeaky wheel that gets the grease.

Along a particularly-rough section of King Edward Avenue, in the shoulder of the northbound lanes leading to the Macdonald-Cartier Bridge and Gatineau, Que., a graveyard of hubcaps is poking through the snow.

Ten plastic wheel coverings ejected from cars clattering over a rough 100-metre stretch of broken asphalt are scattered on the roadside.

CBC News inquired about the condition of King Edward Avenue, last repaved in 2010, but the city said the road was not identified as a priority for renewal in this year's budget.

And while repaving might not be coming this year, a day after the inquiry, city crews were out patching the road surface. 

City of Ottawa crews were at work patching King Edward Avenue on Thursday afternoon. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

"We're waiting too long to intervene on roads," said Coun. Mathieu Fleury.

King Edward Avenue is in his ward, and he said he had noticed the poor condition of the roadway on ski trips to Gatineau Park. Even during the pandemic, he said traffic was steady on the road as essential workers relied on it.

Fleury pointed to the preventative, asphalt-sealing work done by the National Capital Commission on the Sir George Étienne Cartier Parkway as a road-maintenance example worth following.

In the shoulder of King Edward Avenue, a graveyard of ejected hubcaps is emerging from the snow. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Others, like Old Ottawa South resident Joanne Steventon, simply try to see the positive in pothole season and the "human-sized" hole outside her home.

"It's not the prettiest thing in the world, but it actually slows traffic down," she said.

"Don't hate me, but I'm not complaining about it."


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