It’s that time of year once again that I dread, we slowly begin to lose the snow and are left with piles of a nasty salt-dirt mix, and what’s below that is even worse. Some cities are better than others at dealing with the pothole problem that begins as the ground begins to thaw and the temperatures continue to rise. North Bay, however, is not one of those cities that handles potholes well, and my vehicle can attest to that.
Honestly, I’m already sad enough when the snow starts to melt away because I’m a huge fan of the winter. I grew up in the north and love getting outdoors, going snowmobiling, camping, hunting, and from ages 10-15 I’d spend about 4 hours a night playing road hockey in -40C weather. But as the snow and ground begin to thaw, I’m reminded of the new surprises in the asphalt below, cracks and holes of all sizes and depths everywhere. Driving to work or school begins to feel like off-roading, I’m thankful that I drive a SUV and not a car.
Potholes happen as water accumulates under cracked or damaged asphalt and expands or shrinks as the temperature changes, leaving gaps below the asphalt that can cave in as vehicles pass above. Living farther north where temperatures drop below freezing lead to the roads deteriorating quicker, resulting in larger and more frequent potholes. Much of the roadwork done in Ontario is supposed to last 10-15 years but begins to see significant damage within the first 2-3 years, leading the transportation ministry to look into aging tests for asphalt used by contractors in roadwork.
A study conducted by CAA found that Canadians spend over $1.4 billion per year dealing with pothole damage, with over $550 million of that coming from Ontario drivers. Damage from potholes ranges from bent and punctured tires, to suspension issues, and even body damage. Potholes are such a widespread problem that they were the number one complaint received in CAA’s annual Worst Roads campaign.
The primary two fixes for potholes are cold patch and hot mix asphalt. Cold patch is the wider used of the two because of the ease and lower cost of doing it, it involves filling a pothole or crack with already-mixed asphalt and packing it as tight as possible, cold patch is simple enough that most people can do it themselves. Hot mix asphalt on the other hand involves digging up the asphalt around a pothole, filling it in and sealing it off with asphalt. Hot mix is considered more of a long term fix as it addresses the root of the problem, while cold patching is quite literally just patching, but the problem is still there and more cracks and potholes will likely form.
A Queen’s University Professor who has tested asphalt samples from thousands of sites, claims that more than half of the asphalt he tested contained additives such as engine oil and oil residue. Pavement producers have been using small amounts of recycled engine oil in their asphalt mixes, which are typically 5% asphalt cement, 95% aggregate (gravel, stone, sand). The engine oil used has been shown to begin deteriorating within the first year of use, which means stricter enforcement on the quality of asphalt used can help lead to less potholes, less repair spending, and higher quality roadways.