Thursday, 9 April 2009

It's Time for a P20 Summit and Winnipeg Should Host

Every year at the same time people from around the northern hemisphere truck out their same old complaints while media from around the northern hemisphere truck out the same old stories about how potholes are bad, we gotta do something about them etc. etc. Do these headlines look familiar ?

* Don't like the potholes? Blame the weather, St. John's mayor says

* Sheffield, ‘Pothole city' gets £674m funding

* £1m a day – the cost of UK’s potholes

* Solving DC’s Pothole Problem

* Brandon’s Pothole Problem Frustrating Drivers

* Protesters in Chicago rally for pothole relief

* Berrien County PA Road Considered In State Worst Potholes Contest

If you don’t believe that we’ve been talking about them forever: here’s a story from over 65 years ago (Winnipeg Evening Tribune June 2, 1942)

From time to time we also get stories about some researcher or city testing a new method or formula that they hope will be the magic bullet. Even here at the U of M researchers are working on the problem.

It’s hard to believe that the same batch of nations that somehow put together an international space station hasn't been able to solve the century-old issue of springtime holes in the pavement.

Well, it's time for the gloves to come off and Winnipeg should lead the charge. We’re the city that gave the world the plastic garbage bag, Harlequin Romance novels and, most recently, an Ebola vaccine – it’s time to roll up our sleeves on potholes.

We need to call a P20 summit. The top 20 experts – be they engineers, scientists, public works officials - from cities around the world would gather to discuss a framework and budget, put out a call for research proposals and choose the top 10 or so to start and then FUND THEM LIKE HELL. Not some year-to-year, hand-to-mouth grant that a researcher has to spend a quarter of their research time seeking the next tranche of funding - I’m talking in tens of millions.

Why not ? Add up the amount that cities spend on potholes each year over a period of just a decade and that’s a financial crisis in itself.

It's a little like the Gates Foundation Grand Challenges Explorations Program. Dismayed that ten times more research money was being spent on curing male baldness than on malaria, Gates initiated the program. Teams apply and if their idea is chosen as having potential they get $100,000 in seed money to flush out their idea some more. If potential seems to be there additional grants of $1 million-plus are available.

The money is already being spent – billions each year. Someone just has to grab the issue by the horns and create the P20.

1 comment:

Grant said...

They're working on it ... in California. Check it out: http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/article/590455

That said, I don't hold much hope. The problem, as I'm sure you're aware, since news stories from the beginning of pavement have driven the science home, is that water seeps into the asphalt, freezes and expands, popping bits and pieces off the top and allowing even more water to seep in.

A "solution" to potholes would require at least one of the following:

1. Stop water from freezing.
2. Stop water from expanding when it freezes,
3. Make the asphalt completely impermeable (Gore-Tex roads?)

My guess is that none of those are cost-effective.

However, your idea has merit! A pothole summit would bring a lot of people together -- in Winnipeg -- and other transportation issues could naturally be discussed.

I see other avenues to attack the pothole problem:

1. Better "cold mix" to fix them quickly.
2. Fewer heavy trucks on the road in the first place.
3. Alternative transportation (say, rail) that doesn't suffer from the same.

All of that could be addressed at your proposed summit.