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