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No clear ‘pothole season’ in Greater Sudbury lately

City crews are joining contractors by juggling priorities to keep streets clear of snow, mitigate slippery conditions and fill as many potholes as possible
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A city crew is seen filling a pothole in this file photo.

Pothole season typically comes about in the spring, when freeze/thaw conditions wreak havoc on asphalt by unearthing the rim-bending obstacles. 

This winter, however, has been a unique one, with Mother Nature declaring December an early precursor to pothole season, which recent days’ freezing rain has reaffirmed. 

The city typically receives an average of 92 complaints through their 311 customer service department regarding potholes in December, but in December 2021 they received 157. 

So described city Linear Infrastructure Services director Brittany Hallam, who cited a perfect storm.

“There was precipitation, either rain or snow, almost every day in December and quite extreme temperature fluctuations,” she said, adding that things subsequently lightened up.

There were only 48 complaints regarding potholes in January, which is a significant drop from that month’s average of 210. Statistics aren’t in for February yet, but Hallam said that crews were hard at work filling the automotive obstacles. 

On Friday, she said city crews were busy taking care of slippery road conditions and contract crews were filling potholes, as is typical when road maintenance priorities divert municipal staff from potholes. 

“When this occurs we bring in contract crews to ensure the service levels are being met, so when possible there’s always someone working on potholes throughout the city.”

Potholes aren’t tackled in the midst of snow events because the process isn’t efficient due to snow getting in the way. The city has a policy to clear snow within 24 hours of snow events ending. 

Aiding in the city’s pothole-filling efforts has been their newly acquired Python 5000 pothole-filling machine, which has been put to work for the past month. 

Although of overall benefit to the city, Hallam said they’ve already seen its limitations. There are operational issues whenever the temperature drops below -10 C, and the machine is slower to fill potholes in a single area than a crew would. 

That said, Hallam clarified that the Python 5000 requires one operator whereas a pothole crew is made up of four to five members.

It’s also anticipated that the machine’s patchwork holds up longer than that of city crews due to the machine’s greater ability to better compact asphalt into the ground. 

The city’s overall winter control budget for last year ended up $3.4 million under budget, which Hallam attributes to a mild January to March. Last year also saw 42,600 potholes filled during the winter months, which is less than the city’s winter average of 55,000. This, she said, is also largely due to the mild winter of 2020-21. 

The city repairs approximately 80,000 potholes annually.

With potholes a year-round issue that typically peaks in the spring, Hallam encourages people to phone 311 or connect with the city’s online portal at 311.greatersudbury.ca to report potholes.

The online option allows people to include photographs of the complaint as well as receive followup communication on the city’s followup actions. 

Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.