Pave­ment pol­i­tics

MLAs in P.E.I. play an ac­tive role in de­ter­min­ing what roads are paved each year

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - FRONT PAGE - BY TERESA WRIGHT

When Alan Petrie saw a con­struc­tion ve­hi­cle drive by his home re­cently on the Union Road near Brack­ley Beach, he was cu­ri­ous about where it was headed.

Af­ter all, there are plenty of roads in the area that need fix­ing.

But when he saw that pro­vin­cial road crews were resur­fac­ing two sec­tions of MacMil­lan Point Road in nearby West Cove­head, Petrie says he just shook his head.

Pre­mier Wade MacLauch­lan, it so hap­pens, lives at the end of MacMil­lan Point Road.

“I seen the trucks go­ing by and I said, ‘Where in the heck are they go­ing,’ and sure enough, that’s where they went,” Petrie said.

“There’s other roads down this way that more peo­ple use cut­ting across coun­try, and they’re down there paving (the pre­mier’s) road … Op­tics, it just don’t look good.”

The pol­i­tics at­tached to road paving in P.E.I. has long been a favourite is­sue of de­bate among Is­lan­ders. When trav­el­ling along a par­tic­u­larly bad stretch of road, some­one will joke about lo­cal res­i­dents not sup­port­ing the party in power.

But, it turns out, politi­cians are in­volved in de­ci­sions about what pro­vin­cial sec­ondary roads are paved each year.

The prov­ince of Prince Ed­ward Is­land spends $5.5 mil­lion an­nu­ally in its main­te­nance paving pro­gram for sec­ondary

roads, which does not in­clude work on ma­jor high­ways. This re­sults in 70 to 90 kilo­me­tres of road paved ev­ery year, de­pend­ing on as­phalt prices.

Each spring, the depart­ment’s man­age­ment group meets to as­sess dam­age from the an­nual spring breakup of roads and starts map­ping out where the year’s pri­or­i­ties should be for resur­fac­ing and patch­ing.

“We try to spread it out across the prov­ince, we try not to just fo­cus on one area, but we do re­al­ize that some ar­eas get hit harder in the spring­time than oth­ers, so there might be more kilo­me­tres go to a spe­cific area from one year to an­other,” said Dar­ren Chais­son, act­ing deputy min­is­ter of trans­porta­tion, in­fra­struc­ture and en­ergy and for­mer high­way main­te­nance direc­tor.

This is where the politi­cians come in. As the depart­ment tries to de­ter­mine which roads to repave, lo­cal road su­per­vi­sors will con­sult with lo­cal MLAs to see which roads they would like on the prov­ince’s list of paving projects for the year.

Mu­nic­i­pal staff and coun­cils are also con­sulted, namely in Strat­ford and Corn­wall, as the prov­ince still owns and main­tains the roads in th­ese mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties.

Chais­son says MLAs are in­cluded in this process be­cause they are of­ten the ones who hear from their con­stituents about prob­lem roads.

They are able to suc­cess­fully ne­go­ti­ate get­ting roads on the resur­fac­ing list the depart­ment may not have ini­tially felt should be repaved that year, Chais­son said.

The lists of road main­te­nance projects are bro­ken down by elec­toral dis­trict.

But Chais­son says he does not be­lieve the in­volve­ment of the MLAs con­sti­tutes po­lit­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence. They flag con­cerns the depart­ment may have over­looked while depart­ment staffers en­sure the politi­cians’ re­quests are le­git­i­mate.

“We rely on the ex­pe­ri­ence of our staff, when we’re go­ing over th­ese lists, it’s a back and forth.” But Op­po­si­tion MLA Brad Trivers says he would like to see the prov­ince de­velop a more trans­par­ent process for road resur­fac­ing de­ci­sions.

“We should have a five- to 10year plan for all of our roads on the Is­land and we can just pub­lish that ev­ery spring,” Trivers said.

“You can chal­lenge the de­ci­sions, but at least if peo­ple know the cri­te­ria be­ing used and the de­ci­sions be­ing made, there are no sur­prises.”

The city of Char­lot­te­town has de­vel­oped a street resur­fac­ing rat­ing sys­tem to de­ter­mine what level of re­pair work is needed each year. This in­volves man­age­ment and staff vis­ually in­spect­ing street sec­tions look­ing for four spe­cific types of as­phalt de­te­ri­o­ra­tion cri­te­ria and rat­ing each with a for­mula to de­ter­mine how much work is re­quired and its level of pri­or­ity.

Chais­son says this kind of de­tailed as­sess­ment is not pos­si­ble at the pro­vin­cial level with close to 4,000 kilo­me­tres of paved roads in P.E.I.

He also noted sec­ondary roads in P.E.I. vary widely based on their age, the qual­ity of the base work and the qual­ity ma­te­ri­als used when they were first paved.

“There’s roads we are paving this year that if we looked at them last year we would have thought we wouldn’t have to pave that road for an­other five or 10 years,” he said.

“We would love to be able to come up with a five-year pro­gram and put a bunch of con­tracts to­gether, but un­for­tu­nately it’s just not that easy.”

As for the MacMil­lan Point Road, Chais­son says resur­fac­ing was nec­es­sary this year to fix dis­tor­tions and deep wheel rut­ting.

“I can as­sure you that road was in pretty bad shape.”

But Petrie says he be­lieves more trans­parency is needed when it comes to road paving in P.E.I. He pointed to the nearby Kilkenny Road, which sees a lot of lo­cal and tourist traf­fic but is in such bad shape the prov­ince has put up a sign warn­ing mo­torists of bro­ken pave­ment.

“I don’t know how in the heck they de­cide what they’re go­ing to patch,” Petrie said.

“I don’t know what in­flu­ences are there or not, but my ba­sic view is there’s a lot more roads around here that need paving more than the ones they just did.”

“There’s roads we are paving this year that if we looked at them last year we would have thought we wouldn’t have to pave that road for an­other five or 10 years. We would love to be able to come up with a five-year pro­gram and put a bunch of con­tracts to­gether, but un­for­tu­nately it’s just not that easy.” Dar­ren Chais­son

TERESA WRIGHT/THE GUARDIAN

Alan Petrie says he be­lieves the prov­ince’s de­ci­sion to resur­face the road that Pre­mier Wade MacLauch­lan lives on in West Cove­head is poor op­tics, as he be­lieves other roads in the area are in greater need of resur­fac­ing.

JIM DAY/THE GUARDIAN

City of Char­lot­te­town road crews work on resur­fac­ing a por­tion of Univer­sity Av­enue. The city has a resur­fac­ing rat­ing sys­tem to de­ter­mine what level of re­pair work is needed for each city street each year.

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