2018 Spring Road Condition Information

If you have travelled the County roads this spring you have no doubt experienced some challenging conditions. Athabasca County works hard to ensure that our roadways are kept in safe condition for the travelling public; however this has been difficult in some areas this year.

A fast snow melt combined with a very wet summer and fall in 2017 have contributed to the road problems. We are hoping the following questions and answers will help to provide some more information on why the conditions are occurring and what the County is doing to mitigate the issues.

Why are some of the roads so bad (mud, ruts, and holes)?

Athabasca County, along with our neighbouring municipalities, are experiencing a drastic increase in frost boils on our roads. These frost boils cause very soft conditions on the roadway leading to rutting and can make travel through them difficult.

What is a frost boil?

Frost boils occur during the thawing of the ground in spring, especially when the local water table is high. The ground frost thaws from top to bottom and if soils are saturated, thawed water sits trapped on top of the thawing frost. Along with this, water expands approximately 9% when it turns to ice, so as saturated soil thaws the void spaces left by the expansion cause instability in the soil. As traffic moves over a road, vibration and pressure push the trapped water through the path of least resistance, which is often to the road surface. This creates a “boil” where saturated soil and water appear on the roadway. These boils can be localized to one area, or stretch for a long distance within a roadway. Boils are typically worse in areas with high organic or silt content in the soil.

What is the County doing to fix them?

Once a frost boil starts occurring, there is very little that can be practically done to repair them. The thawing and drying cycle must finish so that water has a path out of the road base. Using large equipment, such as a grader, to try and repair them only makes ruts bigger and opens up further space for saturated soil to push up to the top of the roadway. In cases where road access is necessary, such as one-way resident access, emergency repairs consisting of excavation of saturated material and bridging with pit run can occur. These repairs are very costly and only provide a short term solution.

Is the County upgrading roads to prevent frost boils?

Yes. Each year the County typically re-constructs 7-9 miles of road which involves placement of suitable clay base material for a road base and proper drainage construction. A mile of road re-construction costs approximately $225,000 and the 2018 construction budget is $2,577,500, which includes rebuilds and shoulder pulls. The County maintains approximately 1,500 miles of road, so it is a long term process to carry out the necessary improvements.

What can you do in the meantime?

To prevent harm to yourself, your vehicle, and further road damage, we are asking residents to avoid unnecessary travel on roads severely affected by frost boils. If you are aware of an area that is difficult to travel and not currently signed, please let the Public Works department know at 780-675-2404. Most importantly, please slow down and drive to road conditions especially during night time driving.


We thank you for your patience while we work to get through these difficult springtime conditions.

If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact our office:

780-675-2273 |1-844-662-2273 | info@athabascacounty.com