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'Winter from hell' blew budgets by millions of dollars, committee told

Snow plow, pothole and contractor budgets millions in the red
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It was a winter from hell, members of the city's operations committee were told Monday, with the city receiving near record amounts of snowfall that extended late into spring.

Randy Halverson, the city's director of linear infrastructure services, told councillors the severe weather “stretched all of our resources” as crews tried to keep up.

Between January and April, Greater Sudbury received 259 cm (8.5 feet) of snow, compared to 164 cm (5.9 feet) we typically get, Halverson said. 

As a result, the city's snow removal budget is over by $2.9 million so far this year, he said. And their budget for snow removal to be handled by outside contractors is already $3 million overbudget at $4.4 million.

And because of the long winter, street sweeping started later than normal. In turn, that means line painting will be delayed, because it can't be done until the streets have been swept.

Pothole patching – which became a huge concern for residents this year – is far higher than normal, Halverson said. 

“Asphalt patching for the month of April is significantly overbudget,” he said.

The pothole repair budget is $1 million over for the month of April alone. This year, Halverson said crews used 2,750 tonnes of special asphalt for repairs, which works out to roughly 68,750 potholes being filled this spring, compared to 55,000 normally done in the spring. 

And last month, the city received double normal calls for service, some for snow removal but most for pothole reports.

“It has been a very difficult winter,” he said.

The shortfall of $2.9 million in the winter maintenance budget could be reduced if we receive milder weather in November and December. But whatever the final figure is, a reserve fund set aside to make up shortfalls in the budget is empty. As a result, Halverson said, the difference will have to come from “operational adjustments found from across the organization.”

On the brighter side, Halverson said staff have been working for about the last month on new materials and processes for repair potholes, looking for quicker and long-lasting methods.

“We're often asked, what's the best approach for dealing with potholes?” he said.

They are already trying some new materials, Halverson said, and hope to get some data soon on how different materials are performing. While conditions now are perfect for pothole repair, he said they will try the new materials under different conditions to see what mix works best under the circumstances.

“It's a really good exercise to see how this material is performing,” he said.

Phase 1 of the study will look ways of improving pothole repair process and the results of using a new material mix they believe will be stronger, last longer. They will also consult with other northern cities to see what they are doing, as well as the Ministry of Transportation, which is also conducting research.

Ward 5 Coun. Bob Kirwan said he wanted the public to know that regular reviews of pothole processes are not new.

“This is not the first time we have done this,” Kirwan said. “This isn't just a reaction to pothole problems this spring?”

Tony Cecutti, the city's GM of infrastructure, said pothole repair is something that requires constant review as new materials and equipment are always being developed. 

“This is an area that requires us to constantly innovate,” he said.

A few years ago, he said they added a polymer to the cold mix asphalt used in winter to fix potholes, and they got better results. And they added hot boxes within last 10 years. It mixes old and new asphalt, along with some sand and other material, to do a better repair job that lasts longer.

A progress report on the pothole study will come to the committee sometime in the third quarter of the year, Halverson said. 

Ward 1 Coun. Mark Signoretti wondered why some of the crews sweeping the streets are lining up the sand in a column down the middle of the road.

“To me, cars are going to drive over it and blow it everywhere,” Signoretti said. “Is that a new policy?”

Cecutti said crews funnel the dirt into a column so it can be collected by another machine following behind onto a conveyor belt – but only about 4 ½ feet from the curb, not the centre of the road.

Usually all equipment follow each other and remove the column right away. While that might take a while, it's not normally overnight. After that dust is collected, the street is swept again by a machine, and then again by handsweepers.

“It's a four-step process,” he said.




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