Saturday, February 24, 2024

Winter Road Maintenance Experiments Seem to Have Worked Well, But Will We Save Any Money?

Stephen Vance, Editor

The end of February is fast approaching, and while it has been a strange winter that has cycled through warm and cold spells, major snow storms and bright sunny days, the planned experimentation with the delivery or Meaford’s winter road maintenance service seems to have worked well.

No major accidents that have been attributed to poorly maintained roads have taken place, and the community hasn’t been protesting outside the municipal administration building – though had they wished to, their vehicles should have had no problem getting them there.

As with any winter in the past, there have most certainly been isolated complaints, but certainly nothing major.

In early January some folks out in the nether regions of the municipality expressed frustration with the perceived delays in attending to their rural roads, however in speaking to some rural residents as well as some folks who travel our roads extensively as part of their jobs, most people seem pleased with the state of our roads this winter.

As I type these words on Tuesday, I am very cognisant of the fact that the weather people are calling for a big dump of snow mid-week that could net us some 30 centimetres of the white stuff. Given that most of our roads, sidewalks, and even lawns are in that early Spring state we all know so well – gritty, dirty, and unsightly – the large influx of snow might very well be welcome if only to hide all that sand and dirt for a few more weeks.

If there’s a significant number of residents unhappy with how our roads have been maintained this winter, they are keeping their thoughts to themselves. Here at The Independent we haven’t received a single letter to the editor complaining about roads this winter, and the poll we’ve been running on our website asking our readers to grade the municipality on winter road maintenance this season shows that more than half the readers who chose to answer the poll have given the municipality a passing grade (though just over 27 percent of respondents felt the municipality walked the line between pass and fail, and gave the municipality a grade of ‘D’), while just 20 percent were particularly tough on the municipality by voting for a grade of ‘F’.

My personal perspective has been that the roads have been pretty well maintained, though sidewalks, particularly in the first half of January, made this community somewhat less than the ‘walkable community’ that Meaford aspires to be.

Granted, we’ve got the remainder of February to go, and March can be dicey when it comes to poor weather creating poor road conditions, but it looks as though the tinkering being done by the municipality hasn’t had a negative impact on our winter driving experience.

What will be truly interesting would be to find out how much, if any, money Meaford’s treasurer figures this municipality can save going forward should some of those experiments become standard procedure.

Maintaining our roads through the winter months gobbles up a huge portion of the annual municipal budget, and it is the one wild card in the budget each year, as a mild winter can easily swing the municipal budget into a surplus while a severe winter can have municipal managers scrambling to accommodate an impending deficit. Since our municipal management has no control over the weather, budgeting for winter road maintenance is not for the faint of heart, and if there’s any chance of trimming that huge budget, at least we can feel somewhat safe in knowing that municipal management and council didn’t simply throw some darts to decide on areas to cut: they conducted some experiments, the world didn’t end, efficiencies were found, and we can all enjoy the savings, which hopefully will be pumped into road and infrastructure improvements which will become more and more critical in the years to come.

With the remainder of this month and the unpredictable month of March ahead of us, it is perhaps a tad early to give council and staff a pat on the back, but I suspect that the remainder of the season will be much like the past two months – our roads will be plowed and sanded, we’ll all get to where we need to go safely, and the walk-ability of our sidewalks will still be hit and miss – particularly for those with disabilities that require canes or walkers. But given that we live in Canada, where winters are supposed to be cold and snowy, that’s probably as perfect as we can ever expect.

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