Without gravel source, city's hands tied until weather warms

With return of spring, a return of potholes


Dice in a cup, ice in a martini shaker, pick your metaphor.

Anyone driving on Iqaluit's dirt roads over the last few weeks knows the feeling of trying to drive over a field of potholes.

Cab drivers especially are taking a beating from potholes, said Craig Dunphy, who owns Pai-Pa Taxi.

Drivers feel every bump in their backs, he said. "It takes its toll on the customer too. We have some that even complain of seasickness."

But Dunphy, who admits he's not shy about criticizing the city, said there's only so much that works crews can do about the state of Iqaluit's roads this time of year, when temperatures swing above and below zero.

"They try to pull the snow off the roads and clear the ditches… but when it comes to the graders, when the ground is frozen there's nothing the graders can do."

City works director Mark Hall said those graders can't go out to fill potholes unless the "ambient temperature" is 4 C or higher. Any colder, and the dirt becomes too hard to move and can damage the machinery.

"It's an impossibility in technical terms to grade a road when it's frozen," he said. "It can't be done."

Even in cold weather, Hall said crews could fill in potholes with gravel.

There's just one problem: no gravel. At least not until the new northwest gravel pit opens. The city hopes that site will be up and running by late summer.

And while paving some of Iqaluit's dirt roads might sound like a good idea, Hall said the money's just not there. To pave all city streets would cost about $30 million, he estimated.

"The bright cloud in the sky would be the fact that next year we will have access to quality material and we will be able to start grading earlier."

In the meantime works crews are busy clearing out culverts and catch basins to prepare for the coming onslaught of melt water and Dunphy's Pai-Pa mechanics are busy repairing pothole damage to taxi cabs.

"We go through a lot of shocks, we go through a lot of ball joints," he said. "We're maintaining them as best we can."

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