The bright white zebra stripes that usually mark many crosswalks could be a little less visible this summer.
By this point in the season, the town of Antigonish, N.S., would normally have a fresh coat of paint on all its streets and be preparing to do a second coat. But this year, that work is held up by a shortage of road paint being reported in parts of Canada and the U.S.
"It's surprising how the chain of supply breaks down when something happens," said Antigonish mayor Laurie Boucher.
While initially she was told the shortage was due to COVID-19, Boucher said she has since learned from contractors the problem stems from the snowstorm that hit the Gulf area of Texas in February.
When the power grid was shut down, several major chemical plants in the area were knocked offline for weeks. This caused shortages in resins and other materials required to make the paint, she said.
The contractor hired to carry out the line painting in Antigonish told her they have a number of municipalities waiting for road paint, and that once it comes in, there will be a lot of work to catch up on.
Concerns about safety
The switch to lead-free road paints means the pavement markings don't last nearly as long as they used to. With the wear and tear of wet weather, road salt and snow removal, road lines have to be repainted three times a year, Boucher said.
The paint shortage has put the town about two months behind schedule on road and crosswalk painting. With the tourist season starting and the population set to double when students return to St. Francis Xavier University in the fall, Boucher said she's worried about the impact of faded crosswalk lines.
"It could very much become a danger," she said.
'A massive issue'
Paul Nurse, co-owner of Gramac Ltd., one of the province's biggest pavement marking companies, has been in the business for almost 37 years. He said he has never seen anything like this paint shortage.
"It's been a massive issue for us," he said.
On top of COVID-19 stress, border issues and the Texas chemical plant shutdowns, Nurse said he's hearing rumours of a pigment shortage in China that's required for yellow paint.
His Lower Sackville company is on its fourth or fifth supplier, and even when it can get paint, it is lower quality and between 10 and 40 per cent more expensive.
"We've had lulls where we didn't have paint and we couldn't work," said Nurse.
About 65 per cent of Gramac's jobs are public contracts for local governments, and include current contracts for crosswalks, lane arrows and stop bars for the Halifax Regional Municipality and Bridgewater. Those projects are 70 per cent complete, but he's stuck waiting for more paint.
The supply issues are making him hesitant to bid on projects because he doesn't know if he'll have enough product or the quality to get the jobs done.
Nurse said he's hearing from several other pavement marking companies experiencing the same problems. There have also been reports of road paint shortages in Ontario, Quebec, Florida, Oregon and Maine in the last few months.
John Morikis, president and CEO of Sherwin-Williams, one of the largest commercial suppliers of road paint, said during a quarterly earnings call in April that the disruption of supply is the result of already weakened supply chains, higher demand for DIY products due to COVID-19, and February's snowstorm in Texas.
At the time, Morikis said "the pace at which capacity comes back online and supply becomes more robust remains uncertain."
The Nova Scotia government told CBC News it has not been affected by the road paint shortage as its supplier has "prioritized our supply and deliveries." The province's two largest municipalities — the Halifax and Cape Breton regional municipalities — have also said they are not impacted by the shortage.
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