Paving pri­or­i­ties

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - EDITORIAL -

In a per­fect world, politi­cians make in­formed de­ci­sions on pol­icy and an im­par­tial pub­lic ser­vice en­acts that pol­icy. In the some­times murky world of Prince Ed­ward Is­land pol­i­tics, it’s rarely that sim­ple.

Es­pe­cially when it comes to ‘pave­ment’ pol­i­tics in ru­ral ar­eas of the prov­ince. It’s al­most in­grained in the pro­vin­cial psy­che that high­way paving is closely aligned with po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sions at the lo­cal level.

In ru­ral P.E.I., few things are as im­por­tant to the lo­cal area as a paved road. So it wasn’t re­ally a sur­prise to see a story last week con­firm­ing that pol­i­tics plays a large role in what roads are des­ig­nated for paving each year.

Pre­dictable, but still dis­ap­point­ing.

It should not be the role of an MLA to de­cide what roads are paved. That’s why we have en­gi­neers and other de­part­ment ex­perts to pro­vide in­for­ma­tion on the con­di­tion, safety and use of Is­land roads.

Politi­cians shouldn’t re­main mum on the is­sue. They can and should ad­vo­cate on be­half of res­i­dents and their con­stituents. They can make a pow­er­ful case with first-hand, grass­roots ar­gu­ments.

But they should not be mak­ing the fi­nal de­ci­sion, although this ap­pears to be just the case. The paving in Trans­porta­tion Min­is­ter Paula Big­gar’s Tyne Val­ley area rid­ing, and now the ques­tion­able paving in Premier Wade MacLauch­lan’s Stan­hope area rid­ing — of­fers added ar­gu­ment.

A Cove­head area res­i­dent noted there are plenty of roads in the area that need fix­ing — most in worse shape than the two sec­tions of the MacMil­lan Point Road re­cently resur­faced. Premier MacLauch­lan lives at the end of MacMil­lan Point Road. Bad op­tics is an un­der­state­ment.

The paving process starts off well enough each year. The de­part­ment’s man­age­ment group meets to as­sess dam­age from the an­nual spring breakup of roads and starts plan­ning the year’s pri­or­i­ties for resur­fac­ing and patch­ing.

Then politi­cians are con­sulted, who are ap­par­ently able to suc­cess­fully ne­go­ti­ate getting roads on the resur­fac­ing list. The list of projects is bro­ken down by elec­toral dis­trict, mak­ing pork-bar­rel de­ci­sions al­most a cer­tainty.

How does the in­volve­ment of the MLAs not con­sti­tute po­lit­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence? De­part­ment per­son­nel know what roads are in need of re­pair and don’t need a politi­cian to con­firm their de­ci­sions.

The Op­po­si­tion makes a solid sug­ges­tion for a long-range road strat­egy that is pub­lished each spring and which can change based on weather and other fac­tors. Peo­ple would know the cri­te­ria be­ing used and it would be a trans­par­ent and open process.

The prov­ince can take a les­son from the city of Char­lot­te­town, which has de­vel­oped a street resur­fac­ing rat­ing sys­tem to de­ter­mine what level of re­pair work is needed each year, and where.

Surely, in a small prov­ince with only 4,000 kms of paved roads, this kind of de­tailed as­sess­ment should also be pos­si­ble.

Mean­while, do Is­landers re­ally care who de­cides paving pri­or­i­ties? They should.

An on­line poll in The Guardian saw 71 per cent of re­spon­dents say they are happy with the present process. Lo­cal pol­i­tics ap­par­ently still wields a pow­er­ful in­flu­ence.

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