On-Site Magazine

Editorial: Bone-rattling commute

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April 1, 2014 by CORINNE LYNDS

It doesn’t take an engineering genius to deduce that Canadian roads are in worse shape than usual. Even my seven-year-old son will tell you, the bone-rattling commute to karate class is the direct result of an endless supply of ice, snow and fluctuating temperatures.

It has been a harsh winter for most of Canada. Last week, here in Toronto, people staggered out of their homes clad in shorts and T-shirts when temperatures hit a balmy +11 degrees C. With the arrival of short sleeves and patio furniture, is the less popular—construction season.

The tulips have barely begun to bloom, and the City of Toronto is already warning motorists to expect construction delays from June until November, particularly on major highways and in the downtown core. 

“We are going to get to more roads than ever before. It’s going to cost a lot of money,” said Denzil Minnan-Wong, chairman of the Toronto public works committee at a press conference earlier this month. “This year, the city will be spending more than $250 million to improve the quality of our roads and bridges.”

As city workers scramble to fix roads and fill a record number of potholes, Minnan-Wong and his team are working on a comprehensive review that will examine new methods of construction to potentially prevent road problems and improve the durability and lifespan of new surfaces.

The review, which is underway now, will look at best practices in cities across North America and Europe. It will evaluate all areas of construction, including materials and processes. Organizations such as the Ready Mixed Concrete Association and the Ontario Hot Mixed Producers Association are also working with the city in various ways to find better long-term solutions. (Check out road building articles on pages 22, 36 and 40.)

Toronto is definitely not the only city dealing with unusually poor road conditions. Authorities in Winnipeg estimate 65 per cent more potholes this year after the coldest December-to-February stretch in 35 years. And the City of Edmonton has teamed up with the University of Alberta’s engineering department to find ways to make roads stand up better to frosty temperatures. Potholes in that city have become a costly problem. Last year, Alberta paid out a record $424,000 to motorists whose cars were damaged by “craters”.

If there is an upside to all of this, it’s that road builders will have no shortage of work in the coming months, and that municipalities are finally looking for new materials, processes and technologies to improve city streets. With climate change becoming an ever-increasing concern, governments, owners and contractors need be prepared for inclement weather that is going to do its best to ravage our new and existing roads and bridges.  

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