When Hamilton’s head of public works, Gerry Davis suggested to council recently that gravel roads might be in the city’s future, he was accused of hyperbole. But when you look at the never-ending battle the city is fighting, not only against natural deterioration of the road system, but also against a horde of cable, telephone and water contractors who annually make more than 4,000 cuts to the existing road system, maybe its is not so far fetched. The city estimates that we are running an infrastructure deficit of $200 Million every year. The figure is calculated by taking the estimated value of the city’s 6,500 lane-kilometers of pavement –something in the range of $4.5 Billion. If the natural lifespan of a road is 25 years, it follows that we need to invest 4 per cent of the total value each year to keep pace with the degradation of the network. That works out to $200 Million per year. Instead, according to Gary Moore, Director of Engineering services Hamilton’s annual road rehabilitation budget is under $50 million per year—leaving a gap of $150 Million.
Highway engineers will tell you that delays in repairing roads end up costing much more than prompt attention. For instance preventive maintenance—something you might see beginning to become necessary at, say the 5th year of a new road; will cost between $4,000 to $40,000 per lane kilometer. If a city lets the work slide another few years to the point that significant rehabilitation is required—the price per lane kilometer balloons exponentially to about $200,000. If a road is allowed to deteriorate to the point where complete reconstruction is required, you are now looking at $1.6 Million per lane kilometer. Utilizing industry standards the condition of Hamilton’s road system is at a D-minus level when the target should be a C+ or a B-Minus.
Adding to the aggravation of the natural deterioration of the road system, is the constant need by underground utility operators to cut the roads in order to install cable, telephone, fiber, gas and water utilities. In any given year these underground contractors make approximately 4,000 cuts, holes and trenches on city streets and other properties. In order to cut into a city road or sidewalk a contractor must have a signed agreement with the city setting out the conditions under which the cuts are to be made and providing agreement for rehabilitating the streets and sidewalks after the installations have been made. Gary Moore says the majority of underground contractors comply with the rules but at present there is a bitter dispute underway between the city and Bell Canada. The city says Bell has failed to adhere to city-approved locations, cut into roads without permits and a host of other infractions that have occurred since the City’s access agreement with Bell expired in 2012. The City has filed an application with the CRTC to force the utility to enter into a new agreement with Hamilton citing “Bell’s consistent failure to either perform at an acceptable level or comply with the city’s basic protocols and procedures.”
In one example cited the city had recently installed new concrete sidewalks in the Barton-Millen area only to have Bell move in and jackhammer the concrete out, replacing it with an uneven layer of cold mix used as a temporary fix for potholes, leaving the surface uneven and dangerous to pedestrians. The sticking point in obtaining a new agreement with Bell is Hamilton’s insistence that there be either an escrow fund established or some other financial remedy for non-compliance; something Bell says it does not do in other municipalities.