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Weather, construction to blame for road woes

Following our unusually brutal winter, city council has approved an additional $4 million to fill in potholes, seal cracks and make other road fixes.

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Most people who drive or bike Toronto’s streets agree it’s a lot harder to find nice smooth stretches of roadway than it is the potholed and patchy sections of pavement we’ve grown accustomed to.

Following our unusually brutal winter, city council has approved an additional $4 million to fill in potholes, seal cracks and make other road fixes. That’s in addition to the roughly $3.5 million the city spends every year to patch 170,000 to 180,000 potholes.

Officials estimate there are three times as many potholes across the city this year than in previous years.

Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly, who seconded the recommendation for the extra funding, called the pothole predicament an “unprecedented plague.”

So far this year, city repair crews have filled in about 131,000 cracks and craters, to the tune of $2.2 million, with as many as 40 crews working 11-hour shifts and on weekends when the weather permits.

By this time last year, just 66,000 potholes were patched, at a cost of $1.3 million.

Damage to roads, trees, power lines, and the TTC system are expected to cost $100 million more than usual this year, thanks to a combination of ice-storm damage, deep-freeze temperatures, record-breaking water-main breaks and construction-related wear and tear.

“The real story has been the temperatures,” transportation director Peter Noehammer told the Star last month. “I’ve counted five separate occasions where we’ve dipped below minus-20C. That’s very unusual for Toronto . . . we might get to minus-20 every other winter.”

As a result, road crews have been much busier than usual.

“Normally we’d have anywhere from about 20 to 25 crews during the winter months attending to potholes but, sometimes we’ve been up to 40 to 50 crews this year.”

So the initial $3.5 road repair budget wouldn’t have been nearly enough to cover the costs. “We’re already at about half of that,” Noehammer said.

About 90 per cent of potholes patched by city crews are spotted by patrolling transportation staff and road crews, with the rest reported by residents. (To report potholes, call 311 or go to toronto.ca and click on the “24/7” link.)

According to Hector Moreno, the city’s manager of road operations, another reason Toronto’s streets are in such bad shape is the unusually high number of utility road cuts required for new construction projects, such as condos and commercial buildings.

There were 56,000 utility cut permits issued in 2013 (many for multiple holes) to install such things as water, sewer and electrical services. Although crews patch the road when they’re done, it often leaves bumps or dips in the surface.

“Utilities will do temporary repairs to cuts they make, and then it’s up to the city of Toronto to undertake permanent restoration,” Moreno explained. “In some cases, that could take from two to three years to complete.”

Part of the delay it to make sure all cuts are complete before the road is restored.

Once a road is resurfaced, there is a three-year moratorium on utility cuts. If the road is totally reconstructed, the moratorium is five years.

But the cutting and patching will continue as long as the current building boom chugs along.

Because of all that development, Moreno says some roads are getting past the optimum point for resurfacing or restoration — particularly downtown.

The Toronto Star for Wheels.ca

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