The Red Hill Valley inquiry resumed Monday with testimony from Becca Lane who was the head of the Pavements and Foundations section at the Ministry of Transportation at the time the Red Hill Valley expressway was paved in 2008. During this time Lane and other Ministry staff had formed a task force to study the use of Stone Mastic Asphalt (SMA) on various sections of the MTO’s highways. From the beginning there seemed to be a recognition that SMA presented friction issues in the early going. At a meeting in March 2007 the group talked about ways the friction problem could be addressed. It was apparently a serious enough issue that discussion turned to a possible moratorium on the use of SMA.
Later that year it was decided to continue to use SMA, subject to continued friction testing. At this point MTO had not settled on a specific friction number that would be considered safe. The assumption was that the friction issues with SMA only applied to the early days of the pavement being applied and that friction was expected to improve with wear. Nevertheless there was discussion about putting up signs to warn motorists of possible skid issues, and lowering the speed limit, but neither was adopted.
On more than one occasion the documents show a concern by ministry staff over possible negative impacts on the construction industry if they were to restrict the use of SMA in road construction. When discussion turned to a possible moratorium on the use of SMA, one member of the task force expressed concern, stating the asphalt industry had invested in plant modifications and “any moratorium would cause the return on those investments to be lost or delayed.” The Ministry met with the Ontario Hot Mix Producers Association (OHMPA),to discuss friction issues, and OHMPA notes show members expressing relief that the SMA program is not going to be scrapped.
In March 2007, task force minutes show Hamilton had approached the ministry for financial support for the installation of monitoring equipment in the RHVE and that the Ministry had offered to conduct skid testing on the road when it was paved with SMA. The paving was competed in August and the skid testing was conducted by MTO in October, It is not clear whether the Hamilton testing had any bearing on what followed-namely an MTO decision on November 6 to stop the use of SMA on its roads. Ms Lane then provided her colleagues with information on various treatments that could be applied to SMA roads to improve their friction qualities. She described some of those treatments in her testimony at the Hamilton inquiry Monday. The MTO conducted friction testing on the Red Hill each year for the next few years and the results of testing in 2010 showed a decline in friction on the Red Hill instead of the anticipated improvement.