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Could the Python 5000 be a solution to our pothole problem?

Sudbury ponders joining Thunder Bay, other cities that use Canadian-made paverĀ 
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The Python 5000, already in use Thunder Bay, is a one-person device that the manufacturer says can repair three times as many potholes as three-person crews do the traditional way. (Supplied)

As people in Greater Sudbury go through our annual kvetching about the number and size of potholes in the city, a Canadian-made pothole patching machine holds out promise of smoother roads ahead.

The Python 5000, already in use in places like New York City and, closer to home, Thunder Bay, is a one-person device that the manufacturer says can repair three times as many potholes as three-person crews do the traditional way.

The city has considered buying the machine, and at Monday's operations committee meeting, Ward 12 Coun. Joscelyne Landry-Altmann asked the status of those deliberations.

“Are we making any headway?” Landry-Altmann asked.

Tony Cecutti, the city's general manager of infrastructure, said staff have looked at the Python 5000, but didn't recommend buying one during the recent budget process.

Cecutti said they were unable to get enough data to be confident it was faster and better than current methods. And since the company's headquarters is in Western Canada, getting technical and other help would be a challenge.

Thunder Bay has one, Cecutti said, but they are much closer to the supplier.

“If we do find something, we would be happy to bring it back to this committee,” he said.

According to a Thunder Bay staff report from late 2018, that community has been using the $350,000 machine since November 2017. It can carry five tonnes of asphalt – cold and hot mix – and can maintain the proper temperatures even when it's below freezing. The manufacturer, Regina-based Python Manufacturing, says repairs can be done within two minutes.

“The process for repairs starts with air being blasted into the crack or hole to remove water or loose material,” the report says. “The patching unit then dispenses the desired amount of material into the hole or crack and proceeds to level and compact the patching material.”

You can watch the process in a video put out by the manufacturer.

One of the benefits of the machine, the report said, is the driver doesn't have to get out of the vehicle during the repair, greatly improving safety of pothole repair staff.

Thunder Bay tracked the use of the Python between April and August 2018. It filled 390 holes in April, and 480 in May, 210 in June, 410 in July and 110 in August. While it spent 18 per cent of the time in the garage for servicing, the report said the repairs were faster and lasted longer.

“The Python 5000 has resulted in the performance of the patches lasting longer, reducing the frequency or eliminating the need for addition repairs to the same pothole location,” the report said.

Back in Sudbury, city councillors are looking for ways to increase the amount of money spent patching potholes, which currently sits at $5.2 million.

While rejecting a motion from Ward 5 Coun. Bob Kirwan to use the entire budget for local road work – about $2.3 million – councillors agreed to include it as part of a review of reserve funds scheduled for next month.

But Cecutti said there's a massive gap in the amount KPMG says the city needs to spend to maintain city roads – $75 million a year.

“The annual budget … is about $25 million to $40 million, or about half the recommendation,” he said. “So there still would be a substantial gap (with the additional funds).”

In addition to the age of roadways is the fact the city is particularly affected by an increase in freeze-thaw cycles in winter brought on by climate change. With the roads freezing, melting and then freezing again multiple times each year, water gets into the asphalt and, when it freezes, expands the size of the cracks. 

“So the conditions that created that pothole still exist,” Cecutti said.



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