FOR THE GAZETTE
Plans are underway to update more than half of Prince Edward County roads as council explores a multi-year improvement plan.
At Thursday’s Committee of the Whole meeting, municipal staff presented a joint report from the Operations Department and the Development Services Department regarding road reconstruction prioritization factors.
Poor road conditions have been a continuous concern for residents of the County, and last fall, council directed municipal staff to prepare a conditions report with recommendations to repair them.
According to the report, the County is responsible for the maintenance and lifecycle management of 1,047 kilometres of public roadway assets. Of this total, the report said 90 per cent are considered to be within a rural environment, just under half (48.7 per cent) are paved with surface treatment, known as tar-and-chip.
Roads in Prince Edward County are identified as four types: asphalt, concrete, gravel and surface treatment.
The report states 49 per cent of roads are surface treatment, 34 per cent are asphalt, 15 per cent are unpaved and 2 per cent is concrete.
County Road 49, one of the County’s arterial routes, is the only concrete road in the community. The report states the road has already been approved for design work in anticipation of reconstruction.
“The design consultant will be providing an evaluation of two options with either a concrete or asphalt surface and staff will be bringing a report with recommendation to Council for decision, following which, detailed design will be finalized with estimated costing that will be used to inform the 2022 budget,” the report concluded.
Prince Edward County Mayor Steve Ferguson said the report is long overdue.
“I am really hopeful that the public takes the time to read this report and understand the comments so they have an appreciation for the state of our road network,” he said.
Adam Goheen, Director of Operations, noted that compared to neighbouring single-tier municipalities, Prince Edward County’s road system is more than 300 kilometres longer than Quinte West’s road system.
“Prince Edward County has the lowest population density, but we maintain more roadways per person than all others,” he said.
The report data indicated about half of the County’s asphalt roads (178 kms) and nearly 60 per cent of surface-treated roads (304 kms) require work.
Conditions of County roads were assessed between April and September 2020, and data was sent to Greer Galloway Consulting Engineers, who completed a draft Road Needs Study (RNS).
“While road assessments were required to inform the new Road Needs Study (RNS), the data represents a snapshot in time. Road conditions change with time, and the rate of change becomes more rapid with worsening conditions. Therefore, it will be important moving forward to establish a program to update key data such as road condition and traffic volumes. New technologies such as mobile scanning and automated traffic counting devices allow for quick and objective surface condition and traffic volume data collection and will be investigated for implementation,” the report stated.
Coun. Kate MacNaughton urged staff to apply an environmental or climate impact lense to future screening for technology opportunities, along with a cost-benefit perspective.
The study included a grading system for County roads.
Grades A and B reflect 39 per cent of roads in typically good condition with a need for preventative maintenance; grades C and D refer to 38 per cent of roads that are in poor condition or are rapidly deteriorating with a need for road resurfacing; and 23 per cent of road are rated ‘F’ with the need for full reconstruction due to deficiency or particularly poor condition.
Funded through the County’s operating budget, the current annual investment for road surface maintenance is $1.9 million and $3.1 million for rural road rehabilitation. Another $4.3 million will be put toward a capital road reconstruction program, being worked on by development services staff.
“As the County’s road needs far exceed the historic annual investment in them, a clear plan for the prioritization of road improvement programs must be developed,” Goheen said.
The RNS offers two methods to move forward. The first is to prioritize roads with more traffic and the second is based on the number of years since its last rehabilitation.
Goheen said the first approach is widely accepted, but means roads less used may wait years to be reconstructed. The second method, he said, is more comprehensive but relies on accuracy of age data entered into the system, which is categorized by surface type and current condition grade.
Municipal staff sought direction from council on additional factors in the development of priority rankings.
a) In consultation with the local OPP staff, roads which represent vehicle collision hotspots where reconstruction could mitigate future risk by improved design.
b) Roads with an historic high volume of calls for emergency services, such as the fire department, where reconstruction would result in significantly reduced response time and wear on the apparatus.
c) Roads within serviced areas having the need for underground water and wastewater infrastructure renewal.
d) Roads having drainage systems with condition or capacity issues, where reconstruction would alleviate accelerated deterioration of the road and the potential for flooding or assist in the management of climate change impacts.
e) Roads where upgrading would result in increased local benefit, such as low volume rural roads with a higher density of properties/driveways.
f) Roads subject to recommended improvements via transportation planning documents such as Transportation and Cycling Master Plans, upon their approval by council.
g) Rural roads with a significant commercial, industrial or agricultural land use.
h) Roads with a high percentage of large or heavy vehicle traffic.
i) Roads which support area growth, tourism, or where upgrade would provide a regional benefit.
Coun. John Hirsch said the beauty of the plan is to mitigate the “politics” behind road reconstruction so upcoming projects can be announced with data backing the decision.
“Last December during budget talks, when we were looking at the roads that were proposed to be fixed in 2021, we were promised we would get this full analysis of the current state and proposals for how to prioritize going forward,” he said. “You have done that in spades.”
Coun. Mike Harper spoke to his interpretation of the logic of the priority list, saying it seems to be separated into four basic items: safety, infrastructure-related considerations, resident benefit and economics.
“Economics has to take a back seat to resident benefit, to dealing with our infrastructure and ultimately dealing with safety. I think the basic thinking behind it is really sound,” he said.
Coun. Janice Maynard agreed that the roads priority list is a good concept to follow.
“To have a roads need priorities list and to have then eventually, a multi-year roads asset capital plan will be one of the most important things that this municipality has done in the last 20 or 30 years,” she added.
Coun. Jamie Forrester, however, called it an “unsolvable problem.”
“We see this all the time. People get together, do deputations and petitions, and council changes its plans. A real hard conversation has to happen because I don’t know any way that we are going to put $20 million per year aside. We are spending on average $6 to $8 million. This would be very, very difficult unless we want to raise taxes dramatically. I think this will be a meeting that we will have to have around budget,” he said.
Forrester said there will need to be a decision to make cuts where possible, but that moving some roads back to gravel could be part of the conversation.
Coun. Brad Nieman agreed with Forrester and asked from year to year, if council and the community can expect to see a list of roads that are of highest priority.
Goheen confirmed that for each category of road, there would be a list of priorities.
“We have a mountain to climb,” he said. “We need to figure out how we’re going to get there and what is the most palatable with the community.”
Coun. John Hirsch suggested for payment of road projects, the municipality uses debt servicing.
“Anything else that we buy as a municipality that has a lifespan of say, 10 years, we always do with debt,” he said. “Except roads. We pay cash for roads. And when we significantly reconstruct a road, I believe the minimum that we would be expecting for it would be 10 years. Let’s use debt service for roads because with interest rates the way they are, and are likely to remain for quite some time, we can get far more bang for our taxpayers dollars. We can get almost 10 times as much road work done for every dollar of taxes if we pay for it by borrowing than if we pay cash.”
Coun. Bill Roberts agreed that debt is the way to finance roads.
“Roads and major infrastructure are multi-generational assets that render multi-generational benefit,” he said.
Peter Moyer, Director of Development Services, said any decision made moving forward will continue to include the water and wastewater collective behind the scenes.
He said the asset management concept will continue as a living document to encompass any environmental or road changes that may result in road priorities shiftings.
In terms of future considerations, the report said municipal staff are in the process of implementing a number of new software platforms which will modernize asset management planning and reporting.
One of these systems, it said, is an electronic work management platform that will feed data related to regular maintenance activities back to the asset management software. This will provide better characterization of the true lifecycle cost of road assets for future budget planning.
Council received the report for information.