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Island Voices: Bone-rattling roads rev up taxpayers

When you drive down the road, you shouldn’t have to go down the potholes, but that’s increasingly the case for residents of Greater Victoria.
Ernest Barnes, the "Pothole Man," has made it his mission to mark the dangerous stretches of road in Newfoundland. Barnes is seen in an undated handout image circling a pothole along a stretch of road. David Boyd via THE CANADIAN PRESS

When you drive down the road, you shouldn’t have to go down the potholes, but that’s increasingly the case for residents of Greater Victoria.

Roads scarred by spine-jarring potholes create a bonanza for car-repair shops, scare away tourists and business, cause accidents, slow down traffic and even rattle cyclists.

Many municipal councils have a tendency to try to do everything for everyone all of the time. In our view, politicians would do well to focus on their core mandate of running local government and providing better quality services at a reasonable cost to fatigued taxpayers.

Ratepayers keen on the delivery of a certain level of essential services are infuriated by deteriorating road conditions, judging by anecdotal evidence from coffee shops, the number of calls to a talk show and the number of cranky entries to our “Bumpiest-road-in-Greater-Victoria” contest.

One contestant offered: “I drive a 20-passenger bus around the capital region almost every day. My service is providing scenic tours for seniors in care homes. Some of those roads are so rough that I have to slow to a crawling speed for the comfort of my passengers (particularly those in wheelchairs) as well as to prevent damage to my bus.”

A driver complained that on one heavily used commuter shortcut, “incoming cars swerve into your lane so you are forced into the potholes on the edge of the narrow road a.k.a. Pothole Lake Road.”

Another summed up his recent encounter with a treacherous pothole that bent the rim on his tire. “I put in a claim to the municipality, but unfortunately they were quick to deny it, even though the pothole was very vicious and clearly from neglecting the road. I’m very disappointed, considering I’m a taxpayer and always pay my taxes on time.”

In other jurisdictions, bumpy roads resulted in taxpayers taking direct citizen action by filling in the potholes themselves, or planting flowers, flags and trees. One enterprising organization even funded an artist to do head-and-shoulder paintings of the local politicians around the potholes — the pothole becomes the gaping mouth — and, not surprisingly, found the approach very effective.

Some turn to sassy humour (When do you know it’s a really bad pothole? When the municipality assigns a lifeguard to look after it), goofy photos and rants against local politicians.

So why are so many roads in a shambles in Greater Victoria?

It’s spring, of course, and peak season for potholes showing up. The economy is booming and there’s an unprecedented number of construction projects and consequently more wear on the roads.

In general, the infrastructure in Greater Victoria and across the country is aging and needs renewing at great cost for the enjoyment of the next generation. But in our view, the issue is beyond just potholes, as entire blocks and roads need resurfacing.

A local entrepreneur with Safety Now Solutions has even developed a new hands-free app — with voice-activated and GPS features — that allows drivers to report a pothole to a municipality.

In fairness, most municipalities are keen to fill in a pothole, as there could be serious public-safety and liability issues.

Drivers can file a claim with their municipality or insurance company, so make notes on the location, witnesses, receipts from the car repair company, even a photo. But many drivers are reluctant to file a complaint and there’s no guarantee of compensation.

At the end of the road, it’s an issue that’s hard to comprehend when Greater Victoria taxpayers are saving tens of millions annually because of our temperate Northern Mediterranean climate.

As an example, in 2019 the City of Victoria budgeted a total of $40,000 for snow clearance. That compares with an annual expenditure of tens of millions of dollars for snow clearance — $63.7 million in Edmonton and $200 million in Montreal (2017) — in most other Canadian cities. The large municipal bills for salt-damaged infrastructure are on top of that.

It might be an urban legend, but some residents have taken to hiding their weed in a dip in the road and calling it their “pot-hole.”

An even more fanciful urban legend heard at coffee klatches in the region: “The Capital Regional District is going to study consolidating road-repair services across the region in order to save the taxpayer money.”

Stan Bartlett is the chair of Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Greater Victoria, a non-partisan advocacy group dedicated to lower taxes, less waste and more accountable municipal government.