The shape of roads in Lacombe County dominated discussion at the council meeting last Thursday. Among solutions discussed were road bans, increased maintenance, dealing with drainage issues, or adding more equipment to tackle problem areas sooner.
In the end councillors decided to make their road construction program more flexible so staff could reallocate resources to deal with immediate problems. They understood, in voting unanimously to support this action, that it could mean some of the construction projects slated for the current year wouldn’t be completed.
Councillors also voted unanimously to add the topic of road damage by agricultural producers to the August 22 Agricultural Workshop agenda.
The day before their meeting had been very wet and public works supervisor Bill Cade told councillors they responded to 13 complaints and had to close four roads.
Cade reviewed the section of a report prepared by Phil Lodermeier, manager of operations, which detailed reasons for some of the problems and then County Commissioner Terry Hager addressed the various solutions.
“Conditions on gravel roads, although extreme, are not localized to Lacombe County,” said Cade. “Most of the gravel roads in Central Alberta are experiencing problems similar to Lacombe County. Soft spots, soft boils happened every year. This year is not an exception.”
He added, “Overall most of the issues will be fixed with the regular road maintenance program if Mother Nature cooperates for a few days.”
Drainage is another area that has impacted on the road system. “We’re seeing an influx of drainage complaints and concerns,” said Cade.
“We’re finding with water tables the way they are and drainage practises there are a lot of people directing water to our roads. We get water accumulating into the road edges, seeping into roads and creating soft roads.”
“People are trying to farm every acre they can,” added Hager. “Most often they’re looking to drain water to our road hoping it will drain away. Sometimes it does, sometimes it just goes into another slough.”
The first option he outlined is road bans. “We don’t have them on most roads,” said Hager. “But we’re finding with heavier equipment and with the limited time people have to get work done, our roads are taking the brunt of activity. If we’re to do this we have to do some sort of consultation with stakeholders and give them lots of advance notice.”
Another option is to increase maintenance, either by buying additional equipment or contracting the work. “If we had more equipment we could get the roads back in shape sooner, however if it’s wet it doesn’t matter how much equipment you have,” said Hager. He provided prices for purchase of equipment but said, “We don’t find this to be particularly the preferred solution.” That’s because after four or five dry years and the roads are in good shape the inclination would be to continue using the equipment “so you’re going to increase your level of service”.
Educating public road users to respect the roads is another option. That’s when a video was shown to councillors that depicted the results of a manure haul across a paved road the previous day which left inches of mud caked on the surface.
“We think reasonable people wouldn’t necessarily do this,” said Hager. He added the mud on the road caused safety concerns so a grader had to be sent out to blade the road. A similar incident led to a single vehicle roll over on the Duckett Road when it was coated with mud because of a haul.
“Industrial, residential, oilfield users have not been an issue for us,” he added.
Councillor Rod McDermand called for ticketing of the offending business. But he cautioned, he didn’t want the county’s enforcement officers “going over the top. To ticket everybody who pulls out on a road and leaves a lump of dirt, there’s going to be an upheaval.”
He also complained about black dirt coming up in roads. “We’ve got so many miles of gravel I don’t think we’re paying attention to it. If we don’t work hard at our core (road system), if we get two more years of wet weather we’re going to lose it all.”
Cade assured him county staff do “spend a lot of time evaluating roads”. Grader operators are on a two and a half week rotation to cover all the roads in the county.
Councillor Paula Law said what she’s seen is the newer roads are holding up but older roads are deteriorating. “I think we have to address them sooner or later. Just some of the older ones.”
After lunch, the discussion resumed.
Councillor Keith Stephenson said, “I think what we’re doing has been working well. I don’t want to make too much adjustment now. I think we can make minor adjustments as necessary.”
“Yesterday I toured most of my division to see what roads are like,” said Councillor Dana Kreil. “I think we have to prioritize some of the areas where people are getting stuck. I know the guys on the graders are trying to deal with it, but eventually we’re going to have to dig out some areas.”
Cade suggested a multi-faceted approach would help. “Don’t ban all gravel roads, but if they get unpassable or in bad shape ban the roads and miraculously they heal because there’s less truck traffic. If we can ban them, that gives them an opportunity to heal before we open them up to 100 per cent again.”
“Maybe we have to target some of these areas this summer,” suggested Councillor Brenda Knight. “The size of tractors, pickup trucks — a lot of our roads were just not built to the standard of even today’s pickup trucks, let alone tractors.”
“We know other municipalities ban their roads. I don’t know why we’d be any different,” said Stephenson. “I think some of our roads are being abused by the agricultural industry.”
Councillor Cliff Soper agreed something needs to be done about abuse such as that shown to councillors. But commenting on road bans, he said “we’re now in a period where roads can be bad one day and fine three days later. I don’t want to overreact. We have good roads and a good plan to make them.”
Based on the motion which passed, the county is going to deal with problem areas but staff wasn’t given direction on road bans.