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Wednesday, January 22, 2020
Connecting Our Communities

Poor roads are more than just annoying to drivers


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It’s a love-hate time of the year for motorists. On the upside, the days of snow- and ice-covered roads are (probably) behind us. On the downside, the now-bare roads are awash in ruts and potholes.

For the public, that means shifting from complaining about the clearing of snow from the roads and sidewalks in front of their homes to complaining that their streets look like Kandahar.

As noted in this week’s issue, Woolwich has already started getting such complaints. Repairs will undoubtedly get done, but not likely in a timeline that satisfies everyone. We should note, however, that rutted gravel roads and pothole-strewn asphalt are largely unavoidable offshoots of winter, particularly one as rough and freeze-thaw prone as we’ve just come through.

The township is now trying to undo the damage, with the work being done on a priority basis – through roads carrying more traffic are likely to get more attention than lightly used and dead-end streets, for instance – and also on practicalities. Some roads, especially gravel ones, aren’t able to support heavy equipment at this point, so repairs will have to wait until the frost has gone from the subsoil and the surface is less inclined to turn to mush.

Still, there’s no denying the poor state of the roads making driving much less pleasant, not just here but across the region and, really, much of the country. Even without pothole season, our roads are typically in various states of deterioration, suffering from a lack of infrastructure dollars despite higher taxes.

Drivers’ organizations such as the Canadian Automobile Association are constantly lobbying for improvements to our roadways, compiling lists of the worst offenders when it comes to potholes and other road hazards. There is a push to get more of the tax money collected from drivers – through gas taxes and assorted license fees – directed at improving roads. Potholes are not just annoying, they’re dangerous and potentially costly if your car is damaged in what are sometimes canyon-like craters.

Potholes are formed when moisture below the pavement freezes when temperatures drop, forcing the ground to expand and pushing the pavement up. When temperatures increase, the ground returns to its normal level but the pavement often remains raised, creating a cavity. When driven over, the cavity pops, creating a new pothole.

A hard winter like the one we’ve had this year provides all the ingredients for potholes. Snow, ice and rain provide ample moisture and severe cold causes pavement cracking that allows water to seep in, expand and displace paving material. Add sunlight, which creates varying temperatures that keep the damaging freeze/thaw cycle in motion. And finally, because warmer spring weather accelerates the freeze/thaw cycle, causing pavement to deteriorate even more quickly, we can expect to see even more craters before too long.

That being the case, we should brace ourselves for more bone-jarring jolts, and corresponding assaults on our cars.

An encounter with a pothole can run into the hundreds or thousands of dollars for tire, rim and suspension repairs and replacement.

Hitting potholes and consistently driving on poorly maintained roads throws out wheel alignment and diminishes the treads on tires, making it harder to steer in bad weather. In turn, this increases your risk of puncturing a tire.

There will always be a lag between the appearance of potholes and when they can be fixed, but better road maintenance – e.g. more frequent resurfacing – would reduce the problems. There would be more money for such things if what motorists spent on gas taxes, licenses and the like weren’t siphoned off to often-less-useful or outright wasteful projects better loved by politicians.

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