It’s pothole season in Winnipeg, climate change version

In Winnipeg, overflowing craters of water sometimes swallow passing vehicles. Here and there, tram tracks from another era are unearthed by the administration’s road maintenance, which consists of continuous additions of layers of asphalt.

Road conditions have been exacerbated by heavy rainfall, combined with prolonged freeze-thaw cycles.

The worse is yet to come

Manitobans can expect even more periods of severe cold and snow, and even more extreme temperatures, according to University of Manitoba civil engineering professor Ahmed Shalaby.

Our roads were built 40 or 50 years ago, they have to face extreme temperatures that they have never seen before and for which they were not designed.says Shalaby.

All of this adds pressure to the roads and shortens the life of infrastructure that is already approaching the end of its useful life.

Spring has been a problem, but the worst is yet to come this summer, according to Ahmed Shalaby. Extreme heat generates expansion in roads and sidewalks.

When there is a lack of space for their expansion during heat waves, it generates sudden breaks, explains the expert. With climate change, these errors will spread through the system like an epidemic.

Climatic changes

A report from Natural Resources Canada (New window) published in 2016 assessed the projected impacts of climate change on the country’s roads and infrastructure.

The report notably recommends favoring the use of permeable material in order to limit runoff, such as open asphalt. These methods remove the aggregate there, which generates pores in the road, allowing water to flow to the surface.

The report also recommends limiting road construction in areas prone to flooding. It is advisable to widen the culverts and to design drainage systems that lead the water away from the roads, in order to limit erosion.

A well-designed, well-built and well-maintained road should last about 50 years, and even longer if it’s made of concrete, says Manitoba Heavy Construction Association president Chris Lorenc.

This durable material is more expensive, however. Winnipeg’s streets are built from asphalt rather than concrete, as the latter can cost two or three times as much.

We had two particularly hot, particularly long, and not very humid summers, followed by a winter with incredible amounts of snow and a very humid spring.explains Mr. Lorenc.

Few resources

On Scurfield Boulevard, in 2018, the road underwent a remarkable transformation.

On Scurfield Boulevard, in 2018, the road underwent a remarkable transformation.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Lara Schroeder

In 2018, the City of Winnipeg released a State of Infrastructure Report. We learned that the average age for the streets was 48 years, and that the average lifespan was 73 years.

A spokesperson for the City of Winnipeg says the city has updated its road design methods based on climate data to help extend road life.

Improvements have already been made to the granular material foundation of the sidewalks, according to the spokesperson. More updates are planned for the future, he said.

Despite the announced budget of $165 million for road repairs, municipalities still struggle with crumbling roads and sidewalks, according to Ahmed Shalaby. They have limited resources, and this problem will persist.

According to Mr. Shalaby, the tax agreement between the City and the municipalities must be completely reviewed.

Chris Lorenc adds that the Canadian system was designed at a time when municipalities managed much less infrastructure than they do today.

It’s a problem that took 20 to 30 years to manifest. And it’s probably going to take 20 to 25 years of repairs. And without proper planning, failure is guaranteed.

With information from Cameron MacLean, Emily Brass and Pat Kaniuga

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