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M.D. council weighs costs of road maintenance for residents

Posted on July 4, 2018 by Taber Times

By Cole Parkinson
Taber Times

Road maintenance, after a particularly nasty winter in the Municipal District of Taber, is continuing to be a topic brought up by ratepayers.

While some have been more vocal about their want of better maintenance in their area, M.D. council is looking and listening to all concerns.

“There has been a lot of talk about what we can do to increase our level of road maintenance. An obvious one is to add more graders,” said Reeve Brian Brewin at the M.D. policy meeting on June 18.

Adding another grader may be an option but the M.D. has other ways to add to their maintenance.

In 2017, cost totals for road grading were at $1,670,187 with an average cost of 11 operators at $151,835.18 while their 2018 budget sees a decent jump. For road grading, total costs are set at $1,926,899.43 with average cost for 11 graders at $175,172.68.

Included in the cost totals for road grading is salaries/wages/benefits, grading services purchased, amortization of grader buildings and amortization of equipment.

Road gravelling meanwhile is fairly consistent between 2017 and the 2018 budget with total costs at $1,319,388 and $1,394,027, respectively. The average cost for six operators for 2017 is $219,898 and $1,394,027 for the 2018 budget.

“We are constantly evaluating roadways. We’re monitoring grading roadways and gravelling activities to make sure we’ve got enough of a spread of services right now to cover off on what we can provide based on what we have for budget and capacity of equipment,” said Jeremy Wickson, director of public works for the M.D. “I know it’s potentially one of the harder things for any council to define but it does come down to what’s the overall service you are hoping to provide.”

The long winter and early spring snow also put a hamper on road maintenance.

“When we get into those larger type events, it takes us longer to conduct and go through those activities. For example, this past winter we go through one event and we’re barely done and the next event hits,” said Wickson.

During winter storms, roadways are split into four priorities.

Priority one are highly travelled hard surfaced roadways within the M.D. and are given highest priority as they see the majority of traffic volume.

They also act as a link for emergency services and schools.

Priority two are highly travelled gravel roadways and secondary hamlet roadways which carry primarily rural residential and agricultural traffic.

They also likely connect to provincial highways or M.D. hard surfaced roadways with maintenance being done primarily by the district grader operator as required.

Priority three are moderately travelled gravel roadways which carry primarily rural residential and agricultural traffic with some of the roads leading directly to a provincial highway or an M.D. road of a higher priority.

These roads are maintained primarily by the district grader operator as required.

Priority four are lightly travelled gravel roadways which carry primarily rural residential and agricultural traffic.

Some roads may lead to provincial highways or an M.D. road of a higher priority and are maintained primarily by the district grader operator as required.

“One of the challenges I have with the current prioritizing, a road in the winter prioritizes different than a road in summer. We’ve got some of those side roads that potatoes go down or silage hauling down, that can be an awful amount of traffic in a four-month period, where the rest of the year they hardly see anything,” said Brewin.

While thoughts have been expressed to council about wanting to see better maintenance, the process is a bit more complicated than some might think.

Different seasons, weather patterns and traffic counts all contribute to the level of maintenance and while the M.D. wants to make sure each road is in prime condition, they only have so many resources.

“I think the grading especially is a moving target that we’re after. It has so many variables such as the rain, moisture, if we get a dry year, a lot of our soil, when it’s sandy, our roads fall apart. We’re looking at ways to improve what we’re doing, whether it’s change of hours or finding which roads we feel are more vital and are seeing more traffic going through and playing with the frequencies. The target is certainly moving and you have to be reactionary to what the weather is doing or a haul that is going through a road, that will certainly change the condition in a hurry. Things are tough to predict,” said Craig Pittman, public works superintendent.

Interacting with M.D. residents is a big factor and they try to dispatch graders to areas where there are concerns.

“Maintenance is always a moving target, depending on the event, depending on the harvest. When harvest time comes, we put more machines to work and we’re going around doing more work. We’ve had good correspondence with landowners too. When operations are going and we know they are going to be working in a specific area, we will have a machine active beforehand and after,” continued Wickson.

Other suggestions for adding to extended road maintenance revolved around hiring contractors and potentially having graders out for more hours.

Both could be done if council chose but each option would present positives and negatives.

“There are pros and cons to everything. When we talk about contract operators, contractor operators means more supervision and contract rates. Budget is the big thing, we look at the budget we have right now and overall, as far as the public works budget, we have look at gravelling, grading, crushing, maintenance of hard services, construction, rebuilding and rehabbing roadways. We have projects which are installation of culverts, bridges and numerous other small activities. There are all of these components that feed into that,” explained Wickson.

Currently, the M.D. employs 11 graders with nine graders reserved for the nine districts and two full-time floater units that operate where needed.

Reeve Brewin suggested looking into hiring an extra operator that could cover sick days and workers who go on holidays.
The discussion was accepted as information.

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