Canada's Condominium Magazine

Why can’t they build a road that lasts?

Sometimes we think the entire road paving industry must be an elaborate worldwide scam. How else can we explain the fact that after approximately one century of building modern asphalt and cement roads for vehicular traffic, throughout the known world, they still build them to last for just ten or fifteen years (and that’s being optimistic)? After that (and it often seems to happen far more frequently than every ten or fifteen years in some places we could mention), they have to be resurfaced. At great cost to the public in taxes and lost productivity, resulting from sitting in endless lanes of non-mobile traffic on the 401, among others.

Have there really been no advances in road-building technology? Must we really repave our roads endlessly because of potholes and cracks? Can’t they figure out a way, after all their decades of experience, in every conceivable terrain and climate, to build a road that won’t crack, or heave, or crumble before the work crews have left the site? What gives?

Here in Toronto, the conventional wisdom is that the climate is to blame for our road woes, with the thaw-freeze cycle, the hot summers, the snow, the ice, the salt, the ploughs. But guess where the worst roads in the United States are for potholes? California, that’s where. San Jose, Los Angeles, the Bay Area of San Francisco, San Diego, Sacramento. Five of the worst cities in America for potholes are in sunny California. New Orleans, well known for its harsh winter climate, is in the top ten as well. The only really northern city on the US list is New York.

We see a glimmer of hope in a recent report from the OECD into the matter of road surfaces. Called “Long-Life Surfaces for Busy Roads,” the study describes two road- surfacing techniques that should be considered. One, called Epoxy Asphalt, has already shown that it outperforms other road surfaces. It lasts forty years! In fact, the report states, Epoxy Asphalt was first tried in San Francisco forty years ago and is “still meeting performance requirements.”

This Epoxy Asphalt is a “premium” material, so it costs. But the OECD report finds that the additional up-front cost, two to three times that of conventional road surfaces, can be offset by the extended life span: they target thirty years as the new norm for road surfaces. Imagine not having to deal with road work on the 401 for thirty years!

This wonder-asphalt seems to do it all—it’s more resistant to rutting, low-temperature cracking, surface abrasion, fatigue cracking, water damage, oxidation. All the problems that cause roads to fall apart, it solves. Is anybody in Toronto looking into this? And if the cost is prohibitive, why can’t they find a way to make it cost effective?

Not that it will solve the problem, but the CAA is running its Worst Roads campaign again. They want people to tell them about the worst road in Ontario. It can qualify as “worst” road because of congestion, potholes, poor signage, traffic light issues, pedestrian safety issues—pretty much anything that makes it a terrible road to drive on.

The CAA says their campaigns have made a difference over the years in “creating awareness” about infrastructure problems. “When the public speaks, governments listen and the Worst Roads campaign provides a way for the public to make its concerns known about our growing infrastructure debt,” said Rob Bradford, Executive Director, Ontario Road Builders’ Association (ORBA).

His organization expressed satisfaction that the provincial budget that came down last Tuesday was mainly “positive” with respect to infrastructure funding. The budget provides for a 12 per cent increase in the Provincial Highways Budget over last year’s. The highways are set to receive $2.398 billion this time.

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