Flynn and Hnatiw debate roads

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FORUM
Flynn, Hnatiw and Division 1, 5 and 6 candidates will face off against each other next week at the first of two election forums hosted by the Morinville & District Chamber of Commerce. The forum will feature written and verbal questions from the audience.

The forum is at Gibbons School on Oct. 4 at 6 p.m.

There are some 1,824 kilometres of road in Sturgeon County, and county residents seem to have a beef with every metre of them.

Some 53 per cent of respondents in the most recent county residential satisfaction survey said the county was doing a poor job (a score of 1 or 2 out of 5) on gravel road repair. Asphalt repair was a similar story, with about 48 per cent giving the county a poor grade.

This week, the Gazette asks mayoral candidates Tom Flynn and Alanna Hnatiw why Sturgeon’s roads are in such a sad state, and what can be done about it.

Why the roads stink

Flynn said the state of the county’s roads was the result of history, traffic, weather and training.

“These roads were built 70 years ago,” he said, and aren’t able to handle today’s loads, which have increased considerably with recent industrial growth.

Wet conditions this spring worsened the problem, he continued. Crews had not been precisely tracking the height of crowns on gravel roads (as he had assumed they were), which allowed some of them to flatten out, affecting drainage. Some crews were also more skilled at road repairs than others.

The county has now set higher standards for gravel road maintenance and will now physically measure crown height to track crew performance, Flynn said. While the county could fire its poor performers, he said it wouldn’t be fair to do so without first training them to meet the county’s standards. Crews are now having their skilled workers train up their less-skilled co-workers.

“We have to get better skilled guys and have to find the tools to measure them.”

Hnatiw said she wasn’t convinced that council had kept a close enough eye on the performance of its road crews, and was shocked that the county didn’t have a more robust training program in place for them.

“In any corporation, if the task given is not executed properly, there needs to be some accountability,” she said, either in the form of improved training or finding the right person for the job.

She criticized the county for shifting its underperforming road construction crews over to road maintenance, saying that the county had not seen big improvements in road maintenance as a result.

Navigating the future

Flynn said he would improve resident satisfaction with roads by building more roads to service more people.

“It’s a very slow and expensive process,” he said, but it’s one that will be helped along by revenue from the Sturgeon Refinery.

Flynn said council is prioritizing improvements to arterial roads in order to draw traffic away from other ones, and pursuing more road-use agreements with big industry to limit its impact on roads.

Council also signed off on the Sustainable Roads Improvement Strategy, which aims to pave 24 km of gravel and 27 km of oil road by 2019, with another 176 km of gravel after 2020 and all oil roads, including Meadowview Drive, done by 2027. It also approved the Local Road Reconstruction Program, which will have contractors rebuild some 128 km of road in the next decade.

The fact that the county was just implementing its road strategy now reflects a breakdown in communication, Hnatiw said.

“I don’t understand why it took this many years to listen to people.”

Throwing more money at roads won’t fix them if the county’s road crews can’t get the job done, Hnatiw said. The county needs to review its road repair procedures to ensure it has the right people in place on its road crews. If the county’s crews can’t cut it, then the county should hire contractors and get out of the road business.

Hnatiw said the county should prioritize repairs to roads based on traffic flow, with particular attention to bus routes and the Industrial Heartland region.

Next week, the Gazette will ask the mayoral candidates about farms.

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Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.