September 22, 2020

By JACK PARKINSONjpglenngraham

The common pothole costs Ontario about $2 billion every year. But one man says he has a solution to this problem.

Simon Hesp is a Dutch immigrant who travelled to Canada and became a chemical engineer at Queen’s University in Kingston in 1992. Since then, Hesp has taught a bumper crop of the institution’s best and brightest students and formed his own research group, which has received, roughly, more than $10 million in funding from private and government sources since its inception.

The Hesp Research Group covers a range of topics, but places special emphasis on road infrastructure and its improvement. In a Toronto Star article in January 2014, Hesp said the main problem was the low quality of asphalt used on most Ontario roads.

“More than half the asphalt I’ve tested … (has) engine oil residue. And that will crack in the first winter. After 10 years it will be rubble.”

To make a long story short, Hesp got fed up with low quality asphalt and devised a series of tests to ensure that asphalt was produced at a higher purity. He took these tests to the City of Kingston, which implemented them, and the results speak for themselves: Kingston has not reported any cracking after five years with the better asphalt.

The question is obvious – why isn’t Waterloo Region doing something like this?

According to Kitchener Ward 10 Councillor Sarah Marsh, who helps set Kitchener’s budget and has contact with road department staff, the main reason might just be a simple lack of information.
“I haven’t noticed (the potholes in Waterloo Region) are much worse than other cities in Ontario,” Marsh said.

She said that, while road repairs and costs are discussed at council meetings as often as they are needed, the quality of the asphalt has not been a topic of discussion. Marsh was open to the idea of higher quality asphalt, and said she would give the process her support if her ward residents demanded change.

Former councillor Dan Glenn-Graham, who ran for mayor in the 2014 Kitchener election, tells a different story about when he was on city council.
“I was told, ‘Oh, we’re looking into it,’” Glenn-Graham said. “Which, of course, means nothing much.”

Glenn-Graham feels strongly about the quality of the roads in Waterloo Region, and stressed that there were two main contributors to the potholes that plague motorists. First was the infrastructure underneath roads – sewers, water pipes, etc. Maintenance on those installations can only really occur through excavation, which, of course, impacts the quality of the road surface.

The second contributing reason is the freeze-thaw cycle, where water seeps into the pores in asphalt, freezes into ice and expands, then melts again, leaving the road much less structurally sound, if not outright broken. This is what accounts for most of the potholes in any given city road.

“We spend a boatload of money on (potholes),” said Glenn-Graham, who resolved to bring the issue before council again soon, even though he is no longer a councillor.
“We need a model of continuous improvement. It’s shocking to me that (Kingston) staff had to be persuaded.”

According to Glenn-Graham, roads that are properly maintained could last for up to 50 years – a far cry from the yearly reconstruction in Waterloo Region today.
So the next time you’re driving along and you hit a pothole, don’t get angry – get involved. Let your councillors know you want better roads.

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