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Hamilton Engineering staff get a nasty surprise when the Tradewind friction report on the Red Hill surfaces in 2018

Hamilton Engineering staff get a nasty surprise when the Tradewind friction report on the Red Hill surfaces in 2018

Documents released by the Red Hill Expressway inquiry provide an interesting perspective on how the bureaucracy at Hamilton City Hall and the councillors interreact–which is to say, not much at all. A 300-page document that contains hundreds of internal emails among city staff and various consultants contains very few direct contacts with members of council. Three or four councillors who had received complaints from constituents about safety on the RHCE sent notes to staff and received replies, but the document shows Council doesn’t really enter the picture until just before staff get ready to tell council about the 2013 friction test that had been buried.

Even the city’s internal audit staff expressed frustration that they were getting stonewalled on a value for money audit they wanted to conduct on the RHCE, apparently not knowing that some of their enquires were touching on the sensitive friction issue. In a series of back-and-forth emails on how best to respond to the auditor, one manager wrote, “my main concern is that the auditor was on this floor and talking with staff about our programs without my office having any knowledge of this inquiry…when anyone approaches staff regarding compliance, risk, regulatory or audit functions…staff…must escalate the inquiry to the manager level at a minimum.”

And indeed there  was lots of sensitive stuff going on. Gord McGuire had just become Director of Engineering Services in June of 2018, taking over from Gary Moore, and he was discovering some information regarding the Highways that were concerning. Going through departmental files, on September 26th 2018 he came across the Tradewinds 2013 friction report attached to an email he was reading. Internal correspondence indicates that even without that report, a decision had already been made to re-pave the highway. At the same time the Hamilton Spectator was beginning to ask questions about testing of the pavement, Specifically they wanted to know what type of asphalt was going to be used in re-paving the road, suggesting the reporter had some very specific knowledge.

Mc Guire also wanted to revisit the issue of lighting the Red Hill. There had been an understanding in the past that the limited lighting that was originally installed was to comply with an environmental assessment concern about light pollution. McGuire, however, told staff he had studied the EA and found there was no prohibition of lighting the highway, and that the RHCE was something of an outlier when it was compared  to similar roads in Ontario around the lighting issue; although it was acknowledged that to go back and install lights now would require an expensive EA.

Matters were further complicated when a Freedom of Information request was filed that was looking for the Golder reports (which would include the Tradewind friction report). That triggered a top-level meeting involving Risk Management and legal staff at which it was decided to try to buy some time.

Meanwhile McGuire and his boss Dan McKinnon had a meeting with Moore who was now seconded to the LRT project. He compared the meeting to the movie An Officer and a Gentlemen where Jack Nicholson delivers the famous “you can’t handle the truth” soliloquy. According to McGuire Moore said there was no set standard for friction testing. In the same conversation McGuire wondered how $15 Million found its way into the city budget for resurfacing the road saying. “that’s a pretty big chunk of change to go to the Council and get approval, is it not? Like how did somebody just get 15 million without a report to committee or council?”

Later in the conversation it was agreed that the FOI would have to be complied with and it was time to tell Council what was going on.

The hearings that have been underway since last week have laid the factual groundwork for the issue with a great deal of technical testimony about asphalt and testing.

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