If you live on a rural road surfaced with tar and chip, I would encourage you to round up your neighbours, head to the next council meeting and demand a commitment from council for an upgrade to asphalt when it's your road's turn for resurfacing. Why? Well, because that's what some folks on Concession A did, and it worked for them, and so it should work for you, right?
At council on Monday, councillors rejected a staff recommendation for the resurfacing of Concession A, which advised using the same tar and chip surface treatment that has been on that stretch of road for ages at a cost of $362,695, and council instead opted to spend an additional $93,520 to upgrade the surface to asphalt, a surface treatment that is used on roads with much higher traffic counts.
Staff had some very good reasoning for their recommendation to council.
“Based on the anticipated remaining 20 year lifespan of the road base, the proposed rehabilitation treatments are within $550 of each other. Despite the life-cycle costs being virtually the same, staff do not support the total project cost difference between the two road surfaces of $93,520.48, due to ADT (average daily traffic count) of the road section not being high enough to support a hot mix asphalt road surface, the road section not being an arterial road, not subject to significant growth potential, as well as the requirement for additional funding for the alternate road surface,” staff wrote in their report to council. “In addition to the concerns regarding the low traffic and the road being essentially a 'dead end', the lack of consistency with the Municipality’s road rehabilitation program and current standards will result in a lack of clarity on future road surface requirements for road rehabilitation projects.”
Staff went on to advise council that by directing staff to use an asphalt surface treatment for Concession A, given the road's low traffic, would mean that instead of reserving asphalt for roads with average daily traffic counts of 400 or more vehicles, council is endorsing the use of asphalt on any road with more than 100 vehicles travelling the surface each day (the estimated average daily traffic on Concession A is 127 vehicles).
While staff had some solid reasoning for their recommendation to council, council expressed very little in the way of reasoning for opting to upgrade the road surface on Concession A. Councillor Greenfield made a point of noting that the funds that council directed staff to use for the additional cost will come from a recent provincial grant, “not the local ratepayer”, but municipal councillors sometimes seem to forget that whether the funds come from local property taxes, or from upper level grants, the dollars are all pulled from the same pockets.
So what is council's reasoning for opting to spend nearly $100,000 extra to upgrade a dead end rural road from tar and chip to asphalt. The only thing I can think of is what the residents of that road have said themselves during their many visits to council to lobby for their road – their homes are very expensive, and they pay a lot of property tax. Oh, did I mention that council also approved funds for a special sign on Concession A advising motorists that the road is currently in a sorry state, but it will be fixed soon. This type of signage has never been done before, so why for this project? As the residents who have attended council had told councillors, they fear that their home values will be negatively impacted during the rehabilitation process.
So while staff supported their position with facts, policy, and traditional practices, the only reasons council seems to have given for their decision to upgrade the surface of this road is that they can use funds from a surprise grant.
Just to be clear, tar and chip is a perfectly good road surface, and it has been used on low traffic rural roads for eons. It provides a hard surface as opposed to gravel, though it isn't as smooth a ride perhaps as asphalt.
Interestingly, in the very same council meeting council heard from a number of users of the soon-to-be-cancelled municipal transit pilot. Council heard from residents about the difficulties those transit users will have once the service is cancelled; one woman even told council that the day the service is cancelled, she will lose a couple of housecleaning jobs. The reasoning behind cancelling the pilot project and discontinuing the transit service is low ridership (remember Concession A has low traffic). The cost to keep the transit service running, according to the treasurer, even with the 'low ridership', is roughly $100,000 per year, virtually the same cost as upgrading Concession A from tar and chip to asphalt.
Council made no commitment to the transit users who took the time to attend council and express their need for the transit system. Council provided no answers, they simply smiled and thanked the residents for their comments.
Does anyone else see what I see? Apparently, with this council money talks, and if you have money and you own an expensive home, and if you have the time to hound council for months on end, they will buckle and give you what you want. Councillor Paul Vickers made this point very clear at council's April 29 meeting.
“I think all this will do is create a letter writing campaign, and any time anyone wants something done, they will just send us 100 emails and put enough pressure on council, and whether it's a good decision or a bad decision, we'll just be pressured into everything the public wants, and that's not what council is for, we're here to council for everybody, not just the people on Concession A,” Vickers wisely noted on April 29.
Vickers was the lone vote against the upgraded road surface for Concession A.
While council has given initial approval to this upgrade in surface treatment for Concession A, the vote for final approval will take place at the June 10 council meeting, so again, I would encourage every single resident of a tar and chip road to turn out to the June 10 council meeting and demand a commitment for the very same treatment as has been given to the folks on Concession A – if they deserve it, then you do too, right?