SUDBURY -- As the world struggles to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, the crisis is having a positive effect on Greater Sudbury's aging road network.

Thanks to good weather in March, and the fact far fewer people are on the roads, pothole complaints to the city's main 311 call centre have dropped by 66 per cent compared to 2019.

With Greater Sudbury's aging road network, complaints about rutted roads have been steadily increasing in the last few years, rising from about 560 complaints in 2017 to more than 700 in 2018 and more than 800 last year.

So far in 2020, complaints have plunged, said a report headed to city council May 19.

"Although the pothole patching requirements were increased through the month of March, the slow snowmelt allowed these maintenance activities to proceed more expeditiously," the report said. "In addition, by the later weeks in March, volume of traffic on area roads had reduced due to the effects of the response to the global pandemic. The reduction in traffic has contributed to the temporary pothole repairs lasting longer than normal."

One area that was a challenge this winter was a growing demand for sidewalk clearing, the report said.

As the city improves cycling and walking infrastructure, more residents are asking for those amenities to be cleared of snow.

"As the community becomes more pedestrian-friendly … it is becoming increasingly evident that winter control service levels may not match expectations of pedestrians," the report said. "This is particularly evident in the downtown areas where citizens with mobility concerns continue to enjoy opportunities to conduct regular business and social activities without using conventional vehicle modes of transportation."

Greater Sudbury has about 440 kilometres of sidewalks and clears snow from about 350 kilometres. About 26 kilometres were added in 2019, which required buying new equipment worth $310,000, and adding $240,000 to the annual snow removal budget.

With the city adding more bike lanes and making trail improvements to encourage people to get out of their vehicles, the report said demand from pedestrians for more snow removal on sidewalks will increase.

"The success of the city’s Active Transportation Plan, the success of the transit system route modifications, and the emphasis on increased investment in sidewalk construction are all contributing to a greater expectation for improved sidewalk maintenance," said the report.