I’m one of a growing number of motorists who had a close encounter of the third kind – the pothole kind that is.  My experience returning from up north last night (Sunday) on the Laurentian Autoroute struck us at dusk at 100 km/h in the middle lane.  I never saw what hit us, errr what we hit.  But it must have been one heck of a doozie!

Our rear tire exploded with a very loud kaboomthat would have had Marvin the Martian jumping in fear.  Finding yourself skidding down the runway, metal rim on slippery asphalt, is no amusing matter, particularly with three young kids sitting behind you.  My week-long offensive emergency driving course at the old St-Hubert airport in the early 80s, part of my Urgences Santé ambulance driver training, immediately kicked into action as I eased off the gas, signaled to the right, and applied the brakes lightly all the while maintaining full control of the wheel as I edged off the road to the breakdown lane.

Catastrophe avoided.

The Quebec Ministry of Transport’s “sécurité routiere” (vCOP of the highway) pickup truck arrived lights a blazing in short order as the highway video cameras observed my incident and sent out the alert.  This public employee was courteous and helpful and bilingual too.  While I happened to be well equipped with flares and reflective outerwear (what would you expect of a Public Safety Councillor and former ambulance tech?), basic safety tools when standing on a major highway, he would have been a godsend to the average clueless motorist, unaware of just how dangerous it is to be standing even on the side of an autoroute.

The patroller told me I was his 19th victim of the day!  Are you reading this Transports Quebec? 19 pothole incidents, that they recorded and just in the region north of Laval and the north shore.  Indeed, as we drove north on Friday night, road crews worked into the wee hours plugging holes on the Médéric-Martin bridge of Autoroute 15 connecting Laval to Boisbriand.  The number and size of these potholes was extraordinary.

All’s well that ends well.

While the family was safely transported off the highway and returned home thanks to my brother that was coincidentally not far behind us, the flatbed towing service “exclusively” contracted by the Quebec Police Force (SQ) scooped up our minivan and we were on our way to trusty Raffi’s Shell station in Cote Saint-Luc.

The tow truck driver told me how they were working overtime in trying to keep up with all the calls for pothole incidents on Autoroutes 13, 15, 440 and 640 in Laval and Boisbriand/Rosemere/Ste-Therese.  So busy were they that this driver was called back into service having already completed his shift.

Interesting enough, his loudest expletives were reserved not for the sorry state of the autoroutes or Decarie Expressway, nor for Van Horne, but for the Town of Hampstead’s negligence of Fleet Road. He swore up a storm as my minivan bounced on his flatbed as we circumvented the craters on Fleet.  We joked we might need a towing for the tow truck towing my car!  Hello Hampstead?  Are you there?

Needless to say, it was like floating on clouds as we crossed the final frontier into Cote Saint-Luc.  Our driver was suitably impressed with the state of the roads in our city and I took great pride in this expert’s opinion.

Now hear this, oh ye road wizards in all levels of government.  This is Quebec in 2011.  Our winters are fierce and our roads are neglected.  Your patches are mere band aids on gushing wounds.  If they can get it right in bordering jurisdictions (how I love to drive the silky smooth highways of Vermont and even Ontario) than so can we right here in Quebec.

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This opinion piece was published in the Montreal Gazette on March 23, 2011