Maintenance costs for a road connecting small communities in the Hudson Bay region were cut in 2015 – and the predictable increase in potholes arrived on cue.
James Bay Road (JBR) in northwestern Quebec (Canada) is a two-lane, 388-mile journey from the town of Matagami in the province’s interior north to Radisson, a village of about 500 people. The termination point is 1500 kilometers (about 900 miles) north of Toronto. It was built in the early 1970s to accommodate the development of hydroelectric projects in the James Bay region, which is the southern bulb of the Hudson Bay.
This northern area and highway, as one might expect, are largely frozen during the winter months. Which means the paved road takes quite a beating – although perhaps less due to low traffic and a solid stretch of time when temperatures remain below freezing, avoiding some of the freeze-thaw cycles in southern Canada and the U.S. that create potholes. But roads of that age will deteriorate without regular maintenance, as First Nation residents who regularly use it are well aware.
Ryan Erless, an indigenous Cree nation resident in the town of Waskaganish on the James Bay shore – which like several such towns have a gravel-only road connecting to James Bay Road – is part of a Facebook group called “James Bay Highway Road Conditions.” Its 4,400 members report in on how the highway is doing, much of it focused on a noticeable and increasing degree of pavement deterioration. It’s no small coincidence that Hydro-Quebec, the huge quasi-governmental utility that maintains the road, has reduced funds for fixing JBR pavement by 40 percent as of 2015.
“The potholes look like they’re getting worse,” Erless told Nation News, a publication with a readership of 105,000 who are largely Cree and other residents of this region. The print and online publication reported that Erless took matters into his own hands by installing orange pylons in the deepest of potholes as a warning to other drivers.
“I’m hoping people will see my pylons and know that the road needs fixing,” he said.
Erless’ efforts might have been effective. The provincial transport minister announced in April that $97.5 million (Canadian) will be spent over five years to fix the worst of problems along the James Bay Road, the largest such allocation in the highway’s 40+ year history. The annual budget for maintenance (including dispersal of road salt during the winter) had been $4.8 million but was reduced to $2.7 million in 2015. The alliance of residents in the region, the Cree-Jamesien, has proposed that $8.2 million should be spent.
Erless suggested that even a large infusion from Quebec Province won’t fix every pothole. “There’s 600 kilometers worth of road that need to be fixed,” he said. “97 million is not going to do very much, especially when some potholes aren’t fixed properly and become a problem again every spring.”