County proposing community benefit fund to move provincial, federal government on County Road 49 rehab

(From Left) Mayor Steve Ferguson, Councillors Chris Braney and Phil St. Jean discuss a potential County Road 49 rehabilitation project as a semi truck rumbles past Thursday morning. (Jason Parks/Gazette Staff)



Mayor Steve Ferguson gathered with members of the County Road 49 working group at the intersection of the beleaguered highway and Fish Lake Road Thursday to call for a three-way partnership between the municipal, provincial, and federal governments to support rehabilitation of the reinforced concrete roadway.

The County of Prince Edward is proposing a community benefit to fund part of the County Road 49 rehabilitation project. Through the fund, the municipality would seek financial partners to demonstrate leadership and join in financing the community’s share of the nearly $30 million rehabilitation project.

The County seeks an equal cost-sharing agreement with provincial and federal governments, as with other large-scale infrastructure projects.

“The deterioration of this critical road has gone on for too long; enough is enough. The condition of the road has been an election issue during multiple campaigns and people want it fixed,” Mayor Ferguson said. “The County has done everything it can to move this project forward and it is ‘shovel-ready’. Now is the time for the upper levels of government to join us at the table.”

Opened in 1966, County Road 49 spans 18.6 kilometres, almost all of which is concrete pavement. The road connects Picton, the municipality’s largest settlement area, with the Bay of Quinte Skyway Bridge, a key entryway to the County. The Province of Ontario gave the County responsibility for the roadway in 1998.

The County of Prince Edward spends nearly $200,000 per annum on temporary cold patch fixes on County Road 49. (Jason Parks/Gazette Staff)

Working group member and Picton councillor Phil St-Jean noted there was concern even then over the roadway’s condition.

“The province downloaded a massive asset that was not in great condition even at that time,” St-Jean said. “In fact, the council of the day directed Mayor James Taylor to send a letter to the province that stated ‘we don’t want this road please take it back’, and we even returned the cheque that the province figured was appropriate for interim maintenance.”

“This is a long-standing issue and subsequent councils have not been happy with us being gifted a white elephant,” St- Jean added.

County Road 49 sees average daily traffic volumes of approximately 6,000 vehicles, five per cent of which is heavy truck traffic. The County expects that traffic will increase significantly in the next decade with new development and the completion of the Bay of Quinte Skyway Bridge rehabilitation.

“We want to send a clear message to the federal and provincial governments that this community is serious about fixing County Road 49 as quickly as possible,” Councillor Braney said. “This road is too important to the economic well-being and future of our community for it to go to waste any longer.”

County Council created the County Road 49 Working Group — Mayor Ferguson and Councillors Chris Braney, David Harrison, Brad Nieman, and St-Jean — from a motion put forward by Councillor Braney during the 2023 budget deliberations.

Braney added that the road serves as a de facto introduction to first-time visitors travelling from points East into Prince Edward County.

“It’s embarrassing. It’s so reflective of us as a county — the province markets our community as a tourism destination and this is what greets people coming in from the East. It’s appalling and it’s the safety issue right now and we need out-of-the-box thinking and solutions on this,” Braney said. “We’re dedicated to getting this fixed for our residents, our businesses, our tourism trade and our agriculture sector.”

Councillor Harrison noted the investment in the Skyway Bridge rehabilitation project and wondered why the bridge has received attention when the roadway has not.

“You look at the money that’s been spent on that bridge and the province should have an obligation to help us on 49,” Harrison said. “Why would it rebuild a bridge going onto a road that’s in the shape this one is in?”

County Road 49 suffers from severe joint and slab failures, cracking, and polishing of the surface. The average weekly cost of patch repairs, including material, equipment, and staffing is approximately $3,500 or $182,000 annually.

On average, the county uses three tonnes of cold patch per week in temporary repair efforts and the road frequently makes CAA’s annual Worst Roads list, receiving the dubious distinction as the worst road in Ontario in 2016.