Potholes are a sure sign of spring in Edmonton. But they’re not the only driving hazard motorists need to be on the lookout for at this time of year.
Ruts in alleys and side streets caused by packed snow and windrows, drainage issues and cracked surfaces are other seasonal driving challenges in Alberta’s capital city.
On Saturday, the Alberta Motor Association said there were 56 calls for stuck vehicles in Edmonton.
“Overall, the call volume wasn’t over what we would expect; it was the mix of calls that we saw,” explained Ryan Lemont, manager of driver education with AMA.
“About 40 per cent of our calls were winch-related calls, so vehicles being stuck. On a typical day, our winching-related calls is around four per cent. So we did see a dramatic increase.”
AMA usually responds to these kinds of calls for assistance at this time of year, Lemont said.
“As we start to see the weather improve, we do get little reminders of winter.”
Despite the spike in calls, AMA crews were able to respond to drivers needing help in about one hour to 1.5 hours.
City of Edmonton officials said this past winter had lots of freeze-thaw cycles and a lot of precipitation. And that means an expected increase in potholes.
“The main difference for this year is the extended freeze-thaw and the large levels of precipitation,” Caitlin Zerebeski, the city’s supervisor for infrastructure maintenance, said on March 16. “January was a particularly snowy month.”
Last year, there was more opportunity to do road surface repairs compared to this January/February, she explained.
Edmonton has a dedicated, year-round pothole repair crew. During the winter, they focus their efforts on arterial and collector roads, since they’re cleared of snow. Then, starting about May, they turn their efforts toward residential areas.
“This year we’ve seen an increase in the complaints compared to 2021,” over the same time period, Zerebeski said.
Between Jan. 1 and March 16, 2022, there have been 2,500 pothole complaints made to the city and crews have filled more than 12,000 potholes.
Compare that to 2021, when crews had filled about 21,000 potholes in the same time period. In 2020, the city had received about 6,000 pothole complaints by this time.
The city has an annual budget of about $10.1 million for asphalt road maintenance, which includes filling potholes and preventative work. The number of staff on the pothole team is about the same as it was last year.
Proactive repairs rely on citizens reporting potholes to 311, the 311 app, or report a pothole online, Zerebeski said.
“We do go out and inspect all pothole notifications and prioritize them for repair based on those inspections.”
Potholes are prioritized based on size, severity and location, she said. When a crew is on location filling a pothole, part of the proactive work is to also fill any other potholes in that nearby area.
And, if an Edmonton driver feels their vehicle sustained damage due to a pothole, there’s a process through which they can submit a claim, which will be adjudicated and reviewed.
While the city does receive claims, the payout is low, according to Eduardo Sosa, director of infrastructure maintenance.
“From Sept. 1, 2020 to Sept 1, 2021, there were 171 pothole claims made. Out of all of them, six claims had an ‘open’ status where a final decision had not been made, and two claims had paid out that together totaled $945.”
The claim investigation process can take anywhere from 90 to 180 days, “or longer, depending on the volume and complexity of claims.”
Between March 1 and March 21, EPCOR crews have been called out 633 times for frozen or blocked drains, the majority of which were last week.
On Monday morning, EPCOR crews responded to 50 calls in Edmonton and, as of noon, were working on responding to another 134 calls.
“During spring melt, we will have between 10 and 13 crews responding to calls,” said Laura Ehrkamp, a communications specialist for EPCOR.
She explained that if a catch basin is blocked by windrows, large snow banks or large sheets of ice, residents should 311 for roadway clearing. After that is cleared, and if water is still not draining, then EPCOR should be called to address a possible blockage inside the drainage collection system.
“If there is no barrier for the melt water to reach the catch basin but the water is pooling on the street, the likely cause is blockage in the drainage collection system itself,” Ehrkamp said.
“Residents should call us if there is no visible surface blockage to the catch basin and we will respond. EPCOR endeavors to respond to these calls within 24 hours.”
For spring, the AMA recommends drivers slow down and be constantly aware.
“Reduce your speed,” Lemont said. “With some of the snowpack starting to break up, with warmer conditions, it’s really good to constantly be scanning for any obstacles.”
He also reminds drivers that weather in Alberta can change quickly.
“The other thing is visibility. As things start to warm up, snow is melting, so make sure you’re keeping your fluid topped up, make sure those headlights are nice and clear so not only you can see out but others can see you also.”