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Millions needed to bring Woolwich roads up to snuff

Woolwich should set aside millions of dollars to maintain its roads, according to a report released this week.

The road needs study calls for a big increase in preventative maintenance, arguing every dollar spent today saves four or five dollars years down the road. To follow the prescribed course, however, the township would have to commit multiples of what it now spends each year on roadwork.

Where it currently spends $600,000 a year on asphalt resurfacing, for instance, the report by AECOM Canada Ltd. recommends ramping that up to $3 million annually by 2020. For gravel roads, that number would jump to $230,000 a year from $90,000. That’s in addition to $2.9 million a year in reconstruction projects.

In tabling the report at Tuesday night’s council meeting, director of engineering and planning Dan Kennaley acknowledged the goals are daunting, especially balanced against other infrastructure demands such as maintaining and upgrading bridges and water services.

“The road needs study poses some major challenges for the township. However, it’s important to keep in mind that whatever council decides to spend on road infrastructure in the future, this report will help ensure that money gets spent in as cost-effective a manner as possible,” he said.

AECOM’s Dave Anderson told councillors the top priority should be maintaining roads, doing routine work to keep them from deteriorating and requiring much more expensive reconstruction work.

Where roads are still in good repair, but on the cusp, resurfacing them within a year or two could mean getting another 15 or 20 years of service out of them, he said.

“The objective is to keep the good roads good.”

But Kennaley noted the township has some catching up to do on many fronts. For example, the report recommends gravel roads have new aggregate applied every three years. But the township is working on a 10-year cycle that it is trying to get down to seven.

“The road needs study does answer the question that council periodically asks me, and that is ‘Are we keeping up?’ The answer, unfortunately, it would appear to be ‘no, we’re not keeping up.’”

Having completed an inventory and assessment of Woolwich’s 351-kilometre road network, the study provides a map to better-maintained roadways, but at a cost. By putting a priority on maintaining good roads, however, some of those in needs of reconstruction will get deferred even longer.

That will be a tough policy to accept in some neighbourhoods, suggested Coun. Ruby Weber.

“It’s pretty hard to sell to somebody who lives on a street that’s full of potholes and they constantly see us resurfacing roads that seem to be in fairly good condition,” she said.

That will be especially true in the smaller settlements, added Coun. Murray Martin. Because of lower traffic volumes, they already receive fewer upgrades to roads, some of which are in very poor condition.

“In our smaller communities, we have a lot of roads that are shot,” he said. “All the people that live there, they say ‘we pay our taxes like everyone else,’ and they believe they deserve to have good roads, with decent drainage, to drive on.”

The balancing act will be part of the 2011 budget deliberations as the township looks at long-range capital spending, including which projects to undertake next year.

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