March 24, 2014 5:48 pm

Decreased funding hurts highway maintenance, road workers say

Watch the video above: Decreased funding hurts highway maintenance, road workers say. Alan Carter reports. 

TORONTO – Many Ontarians are dissatisfied with the state of Ontario’s roads, according to an Ipsos-Reid poll released exclusively to Global News.

The poll was done by Ipsos-Reid on behalf of the Ontario Road Builders’ Association (ORBA) – a collection of road maintenance firms hired by the government.

Highlights from the poll:

  • 43 per cent are ‘dissatisfied’ with the quality and maintenance of Ontario highways.
  • 57 per cent are satisfied with the quality of Ontario roads.
  • 35 per cent of people think the quality of Ontario highways has got worse over the last three years.
  • 88 per cent agree that more effort needs to make people aware of weather, road conditions and safe driving habits.
  • 86 per cent think the government should increase spending on highway maintenance.
  • 76 per cent agree the quality of Ontario highways is worse this year than in “recent years past.”

And members of the association say decreased funding is hurting highway maintenance.

“Drivers across Ontario are concerned about the safety of winter driving right across Ontario, and especially in northern Ontario,” Geoff Wilkinson, executive director of ORBA said Monday. “Because of the reduction in the funding envelopes, there is less money that is reinvested in winter maintenance within Ontario which results in a decrease of safety.”

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The ORBA members contend shrinking government funding – down approximately 25 per cent since privatization – has made it harder for private companies to meet standards.

The government privatized winter road maintenance in 1999, transferring the responsibility for clearing snow and laying salt from the Ministry of Transportation to private companies. The ministry now oversees the operations, making sure they meet the government-set standards.

Wilkinson is adamant the private companies are in fact meeting or exceeding the government’s standards but it’s getting more difficult.

“One of the challenges is that the envelope has continued to shrink, so regardless of who’s doing the service, if the service levels are cut, then there’s just not as much money to spend on that service, on equipment,” he said. “We have experienced the savings the government has wanted to see in terms of privatization and that’s important. And now it’s time to start reinvesting in winter safety.”

However, Murray says companies are routinely failing to meet standards in northern Ontario where a significant amount of fines have been levied over the past year.

“They are just not meeting objective standards, and that’s the amount of times the truck has to circulate on the roads, certain outcomes, snow removal, proper clearing standards were not being met; so we’re, quite frankly, disappointed,” he said.

The poll suggests four in ten Ontarians are dissatisfied with the quality of roads.

And more people think that Ontario’s roads are getting worse rather than getting better.

ORBA members also warn that the government regulations, specifically how often plows must clear a road, could be negatively affecting salting operations.

Doug Wipperman, a vice-president at Integrative Maintenance Operation Services said the government has an expectation of “continuous plowing.” What that means is when plows finish a route, they go back to a depot and then plow the route again.

But Wipperman says that sometimes leads to plows clearing a road of snow before the newly laid salt has time to melt any ice.

“Not at the start of a storm but during a storm, occasionally we do have to because there’s standards that we have to meet about continuous plowing. Sometimes if there isn’t an appropriate gap between salting and plowing, it may appear that some of that salt may be wasted,” he said.

© Shaw Media, 2014

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