Wednesday, September 20, 2017

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StephenVance 540You have to feel for the folks who live on Story Book Park Road, east of Grey Road 11. They have been living the infrastructure nightmare that's been warned about in recent years. The road that provides access to their homes has been a contentious subject for years, with its poor construction and ever-present potholes in the single layer tar and chip hard-top surface. Facing the years of frustration along with the failure to maintain the road to an acceptable level, Meaford's management opted to do what they considered the most cost-efficient thing they could do – they pulverized the 2.2 kilometres of road and returned it to gravel.

Such is the challenge facing municipalities across the country, as badly needed infrastructure rehabilitation or replacement projects pile up due to a lack of adequate funding, while ratepayers grow impatient about the poor condition of their roads or nearby bridges.

In 2014 a study was conducted, and the report it generated, the State of the Infrastructure for Roads, has become a guiding document for council as they stare down the massive infrastructure needs in the coming years. That report identified more than $90 million in required road work in this municipality. For some context, that is more than seven times the total annual operating budget for the entire municipality and all of the services it provides. Or perhaps closer to home, that $90 million amounts to more than $8,000 for every man, woman, and child living in the municipality – and you think your taxes are high now. If your headache isn't bad enough yet, of that $90 million in required road work, $50 million was identified as being needed 'now', while the remaining $40 million was classified as required over the next ten years.

In short, the challenge ahead is monstrous, and that's just for roads. Two years later, in 2016, council received the State of the Infrastructure for Bridges report, and that study concluded that Meaford will need to spend some $80 million on bridge infrastructure over the next 50 years – another $1.5 million per year that has to be found.

So for roads and bridges alone, Meaford's council and management need to grapple with how best to handle $170 million in required infrastructure rehabilitation in the years to come – a mind-boggling number for a small town – and we're not alone. Virtually every municipality across the country, whether a mega-city or a rural small town, is facing astronomical estimates in order to address their infrastructure needs, so you can understand when a municipality like Meaford opts for a quick, easy, and cheap way to address an immediate and pressing issue on an out-of-the-way rural road that sees relatively little traffic when compared to many of the roads in the municipality.

That it is understandable that Meaford would opt for a fast and easy infrastructure fix doesn't make it any better for residents living on the road, who see their property tax bills continue to rise while the road outside their living room window continues to crumble. It must be especially frustrating for those residents as, with just a few days notice before the work got underway, they didn't even have an opportunity to appeal to council for alternate solutions, or even to be given a full explanation of the reasoning behind the decision to pulverize their road.

Readers will recall earlier this year reporting about the two little bridges on the Holland-Sydenham Townline, bridges 021 and 022. Another out of the way, low-traffic road with two bridges, one after another that failed their most recent inspection and were deemed unsafe for use. And so, based on the advice provided by outside experts who in their study indicated that there were sufficient alternate routes, it was more cost-effective to close the bridges. On paper that might have looked like a great idea, but to the farmers who rely on that road and those two bridges, it's not such a great idea.

In previous columns over the years I've warned that we could very well see paved roads return to gravel as this municipality tries to tackle its infrastructure needs. I wasn't being flippant; I've seen reports from other municipalities throughout North America that have had to take that less-than-desirable step, typically to the chagrin of all involved. Meaford's management has assured council and the public that there are no plans to pulverize and gravel top any more roads, but then again, that was never the plan for Story Book Park Road either, so in the coming years I'm not so sure that there won't be more.

Welcome to the infrastructure nightmare. How far into this horror show are we? I would suggest we've only just hit the opening credits.


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