The Red Hill Creek inquiry was originally called to investigate why a 2013 friction report on the Red Hill Creek pavement was not shared with Hamilton Council. But documents provided by the inquiry indicate there was knowledge of friction issues dating back to even before the highway was opened in 2007 and that there had been multiple friction tests conducted in the years before the 2013 testing. The results of those early tests that started in 2007 did not appear to be much different from the 2013 Tradewind test that is the focus of the inquiry. They all showed that friction on the highway was at the lower end of what would be considered acceptable for safety.
Key to the discussion was a decision made by Gary Moore who was in charge of the construction of RHCE, to employ a “perpetual; pavement” design in the construction of the Red Hill. The design, it was believed, would extend the life of the roadway from the normal 20-year cycle, to up to 50 years. The design specified the top layer of the asphalt to be of a new mixture called Stone Matrix Asphalt (SMA).
In a 2002 paper, the National Asphalt Paving Association wrote, “The primary advantage of SMA is the extended life with improved pavement performance compared to conventional dense-graded hot-mix asphalt (HMA). The other advantages are noise reduction, improved frictional resistance, and improved visibility.”
Ontario’s Ministry of Transport had also been using the relatively new asphalt mix on some of its highways, in 2007, the same time as the RHCE was still under construction. With regard to the supposed friction superiority of SMA, MTO became concerned about reports of low friction on some of its roads that had been paved with SMA and decided to form a task force to study the use of the mix.
As part of the discussion, MTO was aware that Hamilton was using SMA on the Red Hill, and MTO spoke to Moore about the possibility of conducting friction testing on the Hamilton road, which was just getting its top layer of SMA. Moore agreed, and suggested the testing be conducted in the days before the highway had its official opening.
Internal MTO memos comment on the fact that the city was ok with the testing but would not confirm it in writing.
Question: “Is City of Hamilton in agreement with the testing? We don’t need a letter of request, but we do need their approval. “
Reply: “Yes the city is in agreement but it is strange that the City are not willing to write a request. I asked Ludomir(Ludomir Uzarowski, Golder Associates, consultant to Hamilton on pavement issues) to specifically send me a request from the City a few weeks ago.”
Response: Maybe they are concerned about the results from a liability perspective…
The friction testing took place on October 16, 2007, just days before the official opening of the highway and the results were sent to the city’s consultant, Dr. Uzarowski. A member of the MTO task force noted, “The friction number of 30 is an approximation of the (approaching worst condition) friction value used to determine minimum stopping distances in the Geometric Design Standards for Ontario Highways. The number 30 is a minimum friction number to be considered safe, low 20 is considered unsafe.” The Red Hill results showed the average friction rating was 33.8. the minimum 28.4FN.
The results of that survey were forwarded to Mr. Moore.
By November 6th the MTO had decided to temporarily suspend the use of SMA on its roads, pending exploration of ways of changing the asphalt mix to provide better traction.
In the years following the 2007 friction testing, MTO conducted further tests in 2008, 2010 and 2012 with this comment from an MTO staffer: “Hamilton site was also tested yesterday, so the attached…files reflect performance levels since 2007.Overall performance in 2011 is in the low to mid 30 range.”
Like the earlier testing that started in 2007, The 2013 Tradewind tests showed little deviation from the previous testing–average readings in the mid 30’s with some dipping into the 20’s. Commenting, Tradewind wrote, “the overall friction levels…on sections of the Red Hill Valley Parkway were below or well below the (friction standard set in the UK—Ontario had not yet set a standard). Tradewind recommended further studies to deal with the friction issues.