Have you noticed? Regina roads are crumbling!
by Paul Dechene
I’m afraid this city council update is going to be a lot more boring than what you’ve probably gotten used to. Council’s Nov. 25 meeting lacked the raucous goings-on that have characterized many of their 2013 dates. The gallery wasn’t remotely full. No one heckled council even a little. Security escorted a total of zero people out of Henry Baker Hall.
It was as if some wise soul in the clerk’s office scheduled only non-controversial items, knowing that all of Regina would be tired, hoarse and maybe a little hungover after the Grey Cup.
While the meeting lacked fireworks, important work was done nonetheless. One item that deserved at least a Crackle Jack bottle rocket or two was the State Of The Roadways report. Ward 1 councillor, Barbara Young, requested staff prepare it back at the Oct. 15 meeting saying at the time that the condition of Regina’s roads is the number-one concern she hears about from her constituents.
Staff turned the report around really quickly and the numbers it reveals are bleak.
Based on the average age of our road network, staff estimate that 85 per cent of our arterial roads are in fair or good condition. The residential road network is another story, as staff estimate only 45 per cent rate fair to good.
The reason for this discrepancy is that, due to their limited budget, staff have let residential maintenance slide and focused the bulk of their maintenance efforts on the arterials. The arterials are only 20 per cent of the road network, but they handle 80 per cent of traffic.
Staff also calculate that the amount of overdue work our roads need done to get them in line with general renewal practices is $261 million. To solve that problem, the road maintenance budget would need an additional $13 million per year for 20 years. And that’s just to catch up on the work we’ve put off.
To prevent further degradation and keep the amount of overdue work from growing, the road maintenance budget would require $30 million per year.
In total, then, the annual road maintenance budget needs to be around $43 million if we want to see steady improvements on Regina streets.
The 2013 budget, however, only allocated $18 million to road maintenance and that was the most that’s ever been devoted to it. According to staff, investments in road maintenance average out to only $15 million per year.
When asked if council will increase the amount dedicated to maintenance, Mayor Fougere, hoarse from cheering on the Riders, said, “we have a motion from council to look at that and we’re going to incorporate that into the budget process, but what it’s going to look like I can’t say yet because we’re still in budget deliberations right now.”
During council’s discussion of the report, Councillor Bryce pointed out that road maintenance is about more than just money.
“Each year,” said Bryce, “when we look at road renewal, we ask the question: if we put more money towards road renewal, are we able to do more or have we reached capacity?”
And according to Bryce, the answer from staff each year is that even with more money, the city doesn’t have the operational capacity to do more road repair in a construction season.
When asked about this, the city’s manager of roadways preservation, Nigora Yulyakshieva, indicated that a lack of labour is one of the problems.
“If we have long-term budgeting, we can have more contractors involved coming into Saskatchewan to do work,” said Yulyakshieva.
When asked if road maintenance would see stable, long-term dedicated funding established in the 2014 budget, Fougere replied, “we have done that and our budget has increased over the years for the capital side. We know this is a priority. We’re not denying any of that. We’re doing the best we can with the resources we do have.
“There is a balance between the work to be done and how much taxes can go up to do this,” said Fougere. “And this is an art, not a science. It’s what we do that we believe is the best balance between those two. We’ve increased [funding] this year and hopefully this year we’ll have another increase or a change in the way we do the work.”
And it’s true that the road maintenance budget has been increasing. It’s gone up from $14 million in 2008 to about $18 million in 2013 — that’s a $4 million increase in five years, or an $800,000 boost annually. But when you look at how the cost of asphalt has risen from $40 a tonne in 2002 to $100 in 2013 — a 250 per cent increase — you have to wonder how much of the city’s increased spending is eaten up by inflation.
ROBBING PARKERS TO PAY PAVEMENT?
After all that dire news about the bill coming due on Regina’s pothole problem, council did pass a recommendation to raise all parking fines by $10 and to double the fines for parking in front of a fire hydrant. That’s expected to net the city an extra $700,000 per year — which, funny enough, is just a little bit less than what the city raises the road maintenance budget by every year. So in the end, everything pretty much evens out.
And on another subject entirely, council also tweaked their condominium conversion policy. When it was passed last year, the policy stated that condo conversions would only be allowed when the vacancy rate was two per cent or higher. After a review of the rental market was conducted in July of this year, staff recommended that threshold be raised to three per cent, which would align it with what the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation considers a healthy vacancy rate.
By concurring with that recommendation, council no doubt made all the housing activists very happy. After all, the activists have been saying that a three per cent threshold — which the City used to have but consistently ignored — is the way to go ever since council opened the condo conversion can of worms.