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Some municipalities want to appear on CAA’s worst roads list

0 107 Infrastructure

by Peter Kenter

Burlington Street East in Hamilton. Dufferin Street in Toronto. Lorne Street and Maley Drive in Sudbury.
CAA’s campaign to identify Ontario’s worst roads launched in 2003 and has since spread to Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Atlantic Canada.
CAA’s campaign to identify Ontario’s worst roads launched in 2003 and has since spread to Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Atlantic Canada. - Photo: CAA

These four thoroughfares have something in common. They all placed on CAA's Top 10 Worst Roads of 2017 for Ontario.

CAA's campaign to identify Ontario's worst roads launched in 2003 and has since spread to Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Atlantic Canada.

But the law of unintended consequences has seen a big shift in the competition.

What was once seen as a humiliating distinction is now sometimes considered a victory, with politicians actively campaigning to have roads under their own jurisdiction voted the province's worst.

"It's been an interesting evolution over 15 years as we head into our 2018 campaign," says Elliott Silverstein, manager, government relations at CAA South Central Ontario.

"We've seen a lot more uptake by local and regional officials who are eager to be on the list. They often call on residents to use the campaign to highlight the concerns in local areas.

"For Burlington Street East we had supportive commentary from Paul Miller, who is the MPP for Hamilton East-Stoney Creek. We also saw this two years ago with the mayor of Timmins who was eager for his residents to vote for Algonquin Boulevard and the campaign was a success. It reached the top of the list."

In 2016, Ontario's worst road was County Road 49 in Prince Edward County. That distinction was accompanied by a media blitz by Prince Edward County Mayor Robert Quaiff who displayed chunks of broken concrete and asphalt found on the road.

Both Quaiff and Prince Edward Hastings MPP Todd Smith leveraged the publicity from topping the CAA list to petition Minister of Transportation Steven Del Duca to provide some road relief.

The CAA competition was originally conceived using traditional paper ballots.

Now it's an online campaign with drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists submitting votes electronically each spring. Voters select their region and let loose on the section of road they most despise, identifying their "pain point" as Silverstein describes it. That can include congestion, potholes, signal timing, safety concerns, poorly conceived signs and damage caused to vehicles.

"In a survey of our members earlier this year, we found that two thirds have never called a city, an MPP or public works department to complain about the condition of a road," says Silverstein. "They simply accept it as the result of a challenging winter or not being included in capital expenditure plans. This campaign is a voice for people who are frustrated to share their concerns."

Once ballots are tallied, CAA consults with the Ontario Road Builders' Association to confirm and validate the concerns identified by voters from a technical standpoint.

Silverstein notes that the list is also significant for tracking roads that have fallen off it after being revitalized or resurfaced.

"For many years we saw Steeles Avenue along the north end of Toronto's city limits make the list," he says. "It was the first road to be named Ontario's worst road but by the end of the last decade it dropped off the list and never returned. That's quite a success story."

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