How do potholes form and what is the City of Ottawa doing about them?

The weather we've experienced in Ottawa this winter season (2013-2014) has been challenging - and not just in Ottawa, but across Canada. Since November 1, 2013 the City of Ottawa has received more than 230 cm of snow and experienced significantly colder temperatures than normal for a longer period than usual. Overall, the temperature has been below average with freeze/thaw cycles also occurring later in the season than normal. This has led to an increase in the volume and severity of potholes, as frost penetrated deeper into the ground and will take longer to rise out as it warms up.

Generally, potholes are formed when water seeps into cracks in the surface of the road which, combined with the vibration of traffic over those cracks, causes the asphalt to fail. Potholes are also created when the roadway is stressed by trucks and buses as this can cause movement of the subsurface. Once there is a weak spot, every car that travels over the area increases the depth, and, eventually, a section of the material will fail causing a pothole to form.

Current Status

The Public Works Department takes a proactive approach to maintaining potholes year round. In addition, this year there has been a substantial increase in the number of pothole service requests generated by the public. You can report a pothole by calling 3-1-1 (613-580-2400) and providing the following information: The street name and number or street name and intersection closest to where the pothole is located. Additionally, the City produced a short video about potholes and how to report them. This is shared with the public via OttCity Online.

Pothole repairs began a little earlier than usual this year - on January 13, 2014. This was caused primarily by the thaw/ freeze that occurred in late December and again in early and mid-January. Since then, crews have been repairing potholes when weather conditions are favourable. Typically, snow events are the only time that pothole repair crews are not deployed.

Number of potholes repaired and number of service requests received

Year (January 1-March 18) Number of Potholes Repaired Number of 3-1-1 Service Requests for Potholes
2014 56,075 3,330
2013 57,797 2,770
2012 43,546 1,466

Data as of March 28, 2014

In order to improve response to pothole repairs, the Public Works Department is undertaking the following initiatives:

  • Sourcing additional contracted crews to be hired on a temporary basis; currently the Department deploys 5 contracted crews. The number of new crews will depend on availability.
  • Experimenting with different types of cold patch, including one that is said to have extra bonding power.
  • Researching different products and asphalt mixes as well as best practices in order to improve operations for future years.
  • Adding 9 new hotboxes. These can be utilized with existing staff.
  • Sourcing a used grinder (smaller and mobile) for immediate purchase. This will enable staff to make more permanent repairs to the chronic pothole areas by cutting out a larger area that can be properly compacted by a roller.

The Public Works Department will continue to provide the highest level of service possible in order to address potholes throughout the year. In the meantime, please continue to report any potholes you find in your travels online through ServiceOttawa or call 3-1-1 (613-580-2400).

ServiceOttawa is here to help you

Service Ottawa Vision

The City of Ottawa is committed to putting the needs of Citizens first and developed a Service-Ottawa initiative that provides a one-step access to services and information. Council has identified Service Delivery a priority. Therefore Service-Ottawa was created under Service Excellence to standardize the City’s front-end service delivery.

The vision of Service-Ottawa is to achieve better outcomes for Ottawa residents and businesses by providing a consistent and positive client experience across multiple channels with a focus on Service Excellence.

Service-Ottawa: 3-1-1 Call Centre

Service-Ottawa provides three doors to access City of Ottawa services-  one is by calling 3-1-1 (613-580-2400), attending a Client Service Centre in person, or by completing a form online through Service Ottawa. Citizens can call Service-Ottawa for various services provided by the City of Ottawa. Some of these services include:

By-Law Services

Garbage and Recycling

Other animals
Parking in Excess of Time Limits
Unauthorized Parking
Property Violations
Property Violations – Exterior
Property Violations- Interior
Apartments- Garbage
Apartments- Blue Recycling Carts
Apartments- Recycling Grey Bins
Apartments- Recycling Yellow Bin
Curb Side Collection
Black Box- Curb Side
Blue Box- Curb Side
Christmas Tree Pick-Up
Garbage Collection- Curb Side
Garbage Collection Calendar
Order a Garbage Collection Calendar sent in the mail.

Roads and Transportation

Water and Environment

Drain Covers on Roadways
Road Maintenance
Sidewalk and Path Maintenance
Street Lighting
Parking in Excess of Time Limits
Pay& Display Machine
Unauthorized Parking
Graffiti on Private Property
Graffiti on Public Property


After contacting the Service-Ottawa call centre by dialling 3-1-1 or 613-580-2400, a Service-Ottawa call centre agent will provide information regarding municipal services, as well as a create a service request when further action is needed. If a service request number has not been created, agents will provide you with a reference number to allow you to keep track of the progress made on the issue or concern.

Service -Ottawa Gateway Online

Accessing the City Services and information received a technological upgrade, when the City launched an enhanced with the new Service Ottawa gateway. This gateway allows citizens to complete over 250 different types of service requests online, using the click of a button, removing the need to call or visit a Client Service Centre.

The information entered by the citizen will be electronically generated with a tracking number and notification sent directly to the resident, and request sent to the field crew in one step.

Here are some of the top service transactions that can be completed online:

  • Report an issue with green bin collection
  • Report an unauthorized vehicle parked on private property
  • Report a vehicle that has been parked longer that the allowed time limit
  • Pay a parking ticket
  • Report a Pothole on the road
  • Register for recreation classes and activities
  • Request a garbage and recycling collection calendar to be mailed to you

Following up on Service Request

Residents will receive a request number upon completion of a service transaction online. Using this tracking reference number and their email for authentication, residents can track the status of their request and the estimated response time through the Service-Ottawa gateway on

Seasonal load restrictions

During the spring thaw period, typically early March to mid-May, some City of Ottawa roads cannot withstand heavy vehicle loads.  Every year, the City monitors thaw progression by utilizing the forecast temperature data from Environment Canada and Weather Network to calculate the Thaw Index. 

When the Thaw Index reaches its threshold value, the load restrictions are imposed. Depending on the progression of the thaw, restrictions can come into effect quickly, sometimes with only a few days notice. The City also conducts deflection testing to monitor pavement strength as the thaw progresses.  Once the pavement strength has been restored, the load restrictions are removed.

As of 12:01 a.m., Wednesday, March 13, 2013 commercial vehicles or trailers with a gross vehicle weight in excess of five tonnes or 11,000 lbs. per axle are prohibited on roads where restriction signage is posted, and on all roads identified as restricted on the Truck Route Maps (Urban Truck Routes [PDF – 827 KB] and Rural Truck Routes [PDF – 1.5 MB]). These restrictions also apply to all non-truck routes.

Heavy vehicles that exceed weight limits on restricted load roadways during the spring thaw period will be subject to fines.

Local restrictions will remain in effect on the identified City roads until further notice (typically, mid May). For further information on seasonal load restrictions, please call 3-1-1.

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