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Byron Shire
February 25, 2021

Science of potholes

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We love to receive letters, but not every letter will be published; the publication of letters is at the discretion of the online and print letters editors.

Stephen Bellerby, Mullumbimby

I would like to congratulate Richard Hil for his letter (January 6, 2021) bringing to our attention the disgraceful frequency of potholes in Palm Avenue, a short cul-de-sac in Mullumbimby. His estimation of 100 potholes per resident highlights the road degradation of Palm Avenue. What I propose is a more scientific, universal approach to the issue.

Most people would be aware of the pH scale, especially if you have a swimming pool. In essence, it is used to measure the concentration of hydrogen ions, H+, and ranges from 0 to 14. As some of our potholes can closely resemble swimming pools, I was provoked into thinking this scale could be adapted. As a result I’ve developed the Ph scale as a measure of the concentration of potholes. The definition for my scale is Ph= the number of potholes per 100m.

Let us start by considering those roads with a Ph of zero. They are not common in the Shire but the new Byron Bay bypass would be one. No potholes are evident yet as no vehicles have touched its surface and no serious rain has fallen since its creation. Another example of a road where Ph= 0 is the section of Station Street in Mullumbimby that passes Woolworths. Once past the delivery gate of Woolworths, traveling north, the Ph value skyrockets. Whilst the exact Ph value might not be known, a vehicle starts convulsing wildly reflecting a sudden increase in Ph. These vehicular convulsions confirm you are on a severely degraded carriageway and Council will/should act to repair it.

In deference to Richard Hil I would like to use Palm Avenue as an example. I estimated its length to be 100m and the number of potholes to be 300. This means for “Palmy” the Ph= 300. Using this measure I humbly contest Richard Hil’s assertion that Palm Avenue is a record breaker. For this reason my Ph scale is open-ended, much like the Richter scale for earthquakes. In my opinion a serious contender for the Guinness Book of Records in the Byron Shire is Mill Street, running parallel to the river in north Mullumbimby. A rough calculation of its Ph would place it well above Palm Avenue; in the region of 500! It’s just as well the scale is open-ended as I’m sure you might have another contender in mind that surpasses even this value.

Some difficulties with my system remain, calling for further work to be carried out. Even with adequate equipment the difficulty of attaining a reliable Ph for most roads in Byron Shire stems from the fact it can vary from one day to another. Some of the factors on which the Ph value depend are 1.traffic density 2.rain intensity 3.wind strength 4.Council attempted repairs. I’ve listed only the factors that require no explanation, but there are others that have a lesser influence.

Despite shortcomings I encourage Byron Shire to seriously consider adopting my Ph scale. Such an objective measure could prompt repair teams to spring into action to maintain all roads below a certain Ph. You may have other values in mind, but to start with a value of two might be good to aim for. A refinement that takes into account the volume of a pothole might further enhance the system. If one could swallow a small vehicle for example, of which some are clearly capable, perhaps Ph= zero might be a better cut-off.

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  1. Perhaps the reason some roads don’t get repaired is because council has a plan to rebuild the road. The fact that it may take council 20 years to get there is not relevant !,

  2. Council often uses a dodgy “jet patcher” truck that blasts a veneer of asphalt into & over the crater magically creating the illusion of a filled pothole that lasts for up to a week and a half. As it requires only the driver to operate its’ use must be construed as a “saving” by Council by avoiding the proven method of manual filling and compaction requiring several workers.
    If they truly want to improve the quality of road repairs in the shire the first thing should be to sell the magical jet patcher and return to proven repair methods. Every member of the Council outdoor staff who have anything to do with road maintenance knows its’ continued use is a poor joke. The evidence is on the road


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