Pothole repair season starts early in Vancouver

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Pothole repair season starts early in Vancouver

Tony Faria and Larry Colburn toss a couple shovels full of steaming asphalt into a pothole in South Vancouver and pound it down until it's firmly packed. One of the men sprinkles a little sand on top, so car tires don't get stuck to the fresh asphalt.

Once they've swept up the bit of a mess around the repaired pothole, they quickly move onto the next one about four metres down the road.

"This is what we do every day," said Faria. "Then we just go to the next one and do the same thing."

Colburn adds that there's a certain amount of satisfaction in making the road a little safer for pedestrians and drivers, but the potholes "keep coming back," and the work never ends.

The two men make up one of the City of Vancouver's four pothole crews. This year, it's estimated that they'll repair about 46,000 potholes.

An improvement from last year

Officials say the winter wasn't too bad, and it's actually warming quickly, allowing crews to get a couple-of-weeks head start on their work. It's a big contrast from the repairs required after last year's harsh winter in Vancouver, when crews were left with more than 60,000 potholes to repair.

Ken Brown is the city's branch manager of street operations. It's his job to oversee pothole repairs. 

"On average, we do about 32,000 potholes a year, with an annual budget spent of about $350,000, so right now we're repairing potholes for about $13 a pothole," said Brown, who added that the amount of work depends on how many times the road freezes and thaws and how much slush gets pounded into cracks.

Last year's repairs cost the city about $720,000.

Reporting problem spots

According to the city, this year's repairs will be well up from average because more people are using the VanConnect app to report issues, not because the winter was any worse than usual.

According to Brown, the city will add a few crews in an effort to make quick work of damaged areas. He said workers will prioritize especially bad potholes in high traffic areas, and in zones around hospitals and schools. But then they'll attend to other spots, based on calls to 311 and reports that come in from the city's website and app.

Stu Miller, the senior manager at BCAA's auto service centre, points out that while the pothole season is winding down in terms of weather conditions causing damage, now is actually when motorists will run into the most trouble, as repair work gets started.

"We do see calls going up for tow trucks," said Miller. "We also see a little bit of an increase throughout our auto service centres with vehicles coming in with damage to tires, damage to suspension systems, definitely alignment being out of specification — stuff like that."

How to handle bad potholes

Miller suggests that anyone who finds themselves suddenly bearing down on a gaping pothole should try to brake early. Braking while you're hitting the pothole will only make the impact worse. If you see the hole too late, just take your foot off the brake and hold on.

"Always, always keep both hands on the wheel nice and firmly, that way you don't lose control when you go through that pothole," he said, adding that drivers should never swerve. That could cause motorists to lose control or lead to trouble with other drivers.

After an especially bad  bump, drivers should give their vehicle an inspection, check the tires, wheels and note if the vehicle is pulling to one side or another.

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