Ah, spring. The time when Winnipeggers cast off our parkas, turn our thoughts to camping and cottages, and revel in the sights and sounds of the landscape awakening around us. Sadly, one of those sounds is the loud "ka-thump" that makes us cringe when our car bottoms out over a craterous pothole.
The streets and back lanes of my River Heights neighbourhood are rife with them, as they always are around this time. Because of our mild winter, the potholes emerging from the slush and snow may not be quite as bad as in past years, but they’re a damnable nuisance just the same. If a particularly deep pothole has ever damaged your car’s suspension, you know they can be a lot worse than that.
It won’t be long before city crews are out patching up the worst ones, but we all know that to solve Winnipeg’s pothole woes, it’s going to take time, a great deal of money and political resolve. Potholes, like crumbling sewer lines and leaky water mains, are simply manifestations of a much greater problem. Like many Canadian cities, Winnipeg faces a huge infrastructure deficit.
As the oldest city on the Prairies, Winnipeg has a great many roads that need resurfacing or fixing. Hundreds of millions of dollars are required, and for years our civic leaders have bemoaned insufficient funding for street repairs. But some relief could be in sight.
Property taxes in Winnipeg — frozen for so many years — are going up by 3.5%, which means more money in the city coffers to spend on infrastructure upgrades. The city’s 2012 budget includes an additional $2 million each year for the road repair program. This may not eliminate the pothole problem but it’s good news for any of us dreaming of a bone-rattling free drive.
Until then, the sad fact is that potholes are as much a part of Winnipeg as mosquitoes and Slurpees. Our harsh climate may make potholes inevitable, but perhaps there’s another way to look at them.
Maybe it’s nature’s way of telling us to take it a bit slower on the road. As the weather warms, there are a lot more kids and cyclists on the streets, so a little extra caution isn’t a bad idea.
Besides, most of us tend to live life at a pretty fast clip these days, and we could use a reminder now and then about the benefits of slowing down.
It is spring, after all. What better time to stop and smell the roses.
Mark Halsall is a River Heights-based writer.
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