|Left to right: Rob Heaslip - EMCON; Nathan Vanden Dungen – Area Manager of Roads MOTI; Johnathan Tillie – Operations Manager, Central Vancouver Island MOTI; Jim Ramsay – Gabriola Transportation Association (Chair); Ken Wur – Gabriola Chamber of Commerce; Randy Young – Gabriola Ratepayers Association. ~ Photo by Chris Bowers|
Why doesn’t the highways ministry sealcoat gravel roads once and for all, rather than spending time and money to repeatedly repair and maintain them?
Inquiring Gabriolan minds want to know the answer to that and other questions. And at a June 18 Gabriola Transportation Association (GTA) meeting at Agi Hall, they asked them.
The meeting was organised by the GTA and the Gabriola Ratepayers Association to provide Gabriolans an opportunity to quiz highway officials.
GTA member Andre Lemieux noted that gravel roads which have been sealcoated are basically maintenance-free – especially compared to the grading, gravelling, and dust control required by non-seal-coated gravel roads.
Operations Manager Johnathan Tillie of the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI) said maintenance of gravel roads “is funded every year but the program to … move from gravel to hard surface roads is not”.
Lemieux asked if it was also true that the ministry will only hard-surface main roads, and not secondary ones. Rob Heaslip of EMCON – the company that maintains the roads on Gabriola – said in the last few years they have only sealcoated existing hard-surface roads. He said the “inventory is getting fairly old” and roads that were seal-coated a number of years ago are in “poor condition”. He said there is no money in the budget to sealcoat unsealed gravel roads.
Asked if once all the old roads had been re-sealcoated any money left in the budget could go toward new sealcoating on gravel roads, Tillie said any left over money is used for patching roads in other areas of Central Vancouver Island. He added that Gabriola has about six to eight per cent of the road “inventory” in the Central Island area but gets a higher proportion of the maintenance budget.
GTA member John Hodgkins asked how MOTI then deals with renewing deteriorating roads such as Barrett and Brickyard hills “where there is clearly an impending failure of substructure of the road, and it’s not something that is going to be cured by a little area of patching”. Tillie said capital projects were funded differently than maintenance projects. He said all needed capital upgrades within the Central Island area are identified and put on a priority list.
Hodgkins said Barrett and Brickyard are not “major roads” from MOTI’s perspective. He asked if “we have to wait for a catastrophic failure of the road or is there some process by which the ministry can identify … roads that need to have a rebuild”. Fire Chief Rick Jackson added that Brickyard Hill cannot be shut down to do a rebuild “when it’s the only road in and out”. He supposed they could “wait for it to fall off”.
Maintenance vs. replacement
Asked directly if Gabriola’s small population makes its roads lower priority, Tillie said “not necessarily”. Meeting attendee Judith Roux asked what triggers an engineering review of road structure. Tillie said road sloughs are one of the indicators. He said, for example, Brickyard Hill “is continually sinking and shifting and (requiring) patches over the years”, and is “on the list” as needing construction.
GTA member Erik Andersen said a definition was needed of “the blurry parts” between maintenance and capital budgets. He said if some capital projects, such as sealcoating were done “maybe we wouldn’t have such high maintenance costs”.
EMCON makes their money only from maintenance, Andersen said, and it is in the interest of EMCON not to do capital projects. Tillie said EMCON staff actually want to see more capital projects taken on. He said it was in everyone’s interest that the roads be in good shape.
Trustees Gisele Rudischer and Sheila Malcolmson each noted that when EMCON got the Gabriola maintenance contract it promised to do a number of projects which have never been done. Heaslip said that there was a large amount of paving that occurred on North and South Roads in the first year and a half that EMCON was here.
Asked when EMCON’s contract is up, Tillie said in 2013. Andersen suggested that the Province let Gabriolans see the EMCON contract to see how it could be improved.
Rudischer asked how anyone else could possibly win the road maintenance bid on Gabriola when the maintenance yard that used to be owned by the Province was sold to EMCON, and is now subdivided. Tillie said sometimes when contracts are changed the yards are sold off.
Rudischer wondered why the government sold the yard in the first place. She said usually maintenance yards are given to communities if they become municipalities “and now if Gabriola ever were to become a municipality we wouldn’t have that”.
Asked for the second time that evening if any resurfacing was in the works for Gabriola, Tillie said “spray-patching” is planned for South Road. With this process, he said, an emulsion is applied to the surface, gravel is added, and the loose gravel is swept off 10 days later. He said this was a lot like sealcoating and is an approach they have used successfully in other areas in which there is asphalt failure.
Asked if any work will be done on Taylor Bay Road, Tillie said some spray-patching work is planned for that road as well as for North and South roads.
Regional Director Howard Houle noted that a section on North Road had been spray-coated only to be paved afterwards. Heaslip said additional pavement was required because they were “losing the shoulder”. He said spray-patching “does seal the surface and prevent further deterioration”. He said it prevents water from getting into the pavement and doing damage.
Young said it was “obvious to most people” that when a road is sinking because its subgrade isn’t adequate “putting patches on it is a complete waste of time”. He said it may be useful to prevent water infiltration on roads with a good subgrade, but not for roads with substandard subgrades. He said “what we need to do is … replace some subgrading on the island”.
One meeting attendee said that the spray-patching process makes the roads very dangerous for motorcyclists. He said the work signs used to alert drivers should be much larger and more visible than the ones that had been used to date.
Meeting attendee Judith Roux also asked that Hemlock road in Phase four be sealcoated. She said it is the “one remaining” unsealed gravel road used by the school bus.
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