Fixing the Woodlands County roadways damaged by the Athabasca flooding in 2018

·5 min read

Director of Infrastructure Andre Bachand explained that the government would foot much of the project's bill. "The Provincial Government Emergency Funding agreed to fund the replacement of the cold mix driving surface." The remaining would come from the amended 2021 budget.

The Alberta Government program covers work-related damages from the flood but does not cover anything else. MPE Engineering handled design and tenders and received two bids. E Construction was the lowest of the two bids received, $1,253,790 plus taxes, and MPE recommended them as their choice. The section of road not covered by the provincial funding ended up costing just over what the County had set aside for it. "The portion of the Woodlands County funded section came in a $377,617.50, between seven and eight thousand dollars over the projected estimate.

Councillor Dale Kluin asked for a bit of clarity on the scope and size of the project. "The project is essentially pulverizing the remaining surface, grading the road surface, and preparing it. There may be a little bit of excavation work required in one spot. Then repaving the road with cold mix from the Town of Whitecourt boundary to Trestle Road and then from Flats Road to approximately half a kilometre south along Trestle Road," explained Bachand.

Mayor John Burrows was confused why the project would use cold mix when Council had previously decided not to use it anymore. "We have a policy that said we weren't going to do cold mix anymore and that we were going to pulverize a lot of the cold mix and turn it back into gravel."

Bachand explained that though Council did enact a policy to stop using cold mix, the Province of Alberta funding they are using for much of the project will only cover what was already there. "They will not fund an enhancement. If we were to pave it, the Province would not cover the cost. We have to put it back to original." Mayor Burrows looked for clarification with a follow-up question. "And putting it back to original is costing us $370,000, and the rest of it is picked up by the province?" Bachand replied, "yes."

Councillor Bruce Prestidge explained that the road needs to have a better base. "The road is built upon silt, and when it washed out, there was only like two inches of gravel under the cold mix, sitting on the sand. That is why the road pounds out so easily. Are we going to look at (building) the base up at all before we put cold mix on it again?"

Bachand responded. "To do any other work on the remainder of that road, the county would have to fund it. The province will only replace what was damaged by the river." Councillor Prestidge continued. "The portion that the province is paying for now, the road doesn't hold up because there is no base under the cold mix. If we spend almost four hundred thousand again just to re-cold mix it, it will not hold up because there's no base under it. It is wasting money if we're doing that." His view was that even though the provincial funding covered nearly the whole project, the resurfaced road wouldn't last since the base wasn't being fixed.

Bachand emphasized that the County did not have the funding needed. "We do not have the funding in place to do any additional work to that section of road. The section of road that the county is funding was not damaged by the flood. We are simply resurfacing that section." Councillor Prestidge remained firm in his position. "So, we are going to spend $377,000 to resurface it, and in a couple of years, it's going to be full of potholes again."

Bachand responded that it would be Council's decision to proceed with the smaller section of the road. Seeing an opportunity, Councillor Prestidge pressed further. "What if we made a motion to fix the portion that the province is paying for and not do the other section until we have the money to do it right, instead of spending $377,000 on it, and we're no further ahead?"

Mayor Burrow queried, "is there an option to do that? To have the province fund the area that was knocked out and then wait and properly rebuild the road?" Bachand confirmed that it was an option. "It's Council's decision. We would pulverize the remainder and put it back the way it is pending budget approval to do further work on it."

Councillor Dale Kluin jumped in to express his agreeance with Councillor Prestidge. He said that another county road, down to the gravel pit, is surfaced with cold mix and fine at 20 years old. But, he said it was built correctly from the start. "It is in our best interest to save money by doing it properly the first time."

The entire project is roughly five kilometres, with the County's portion being about a quarter of the total length meaning cold mix would account for nearly all of it. Councillor Kluin felt waiting to do the smaller section was best. "I think right now we do the section that the province is going to pay for, and for the section that we are responsible for, I think we pulverize it for now and look at doing it properly next year."

Councillor Govenlock motioned to have Administration review the tender with MEC to redo only the portion of roadway covered by the Provincial Government. Mayor Burrows agreed with his fellow councillors. "If you have a good base, you can get the cold mix to stick to it. Would there be three hundred and seventy thousand left over? And would it be enough to rebuild that section of road?"

Bachand said that yes, give or take, there would be $370,000 to put towards it. "I think a well-compacted gravel road would be preferable to a cold mix road that's falling apart," said Mayor Burrows. Bachand agreed but reminded Council that the roadways covered by the Province were not being rebuilt underneath, just resurfaced. Council voted in favour of going forward with the provincially-funded portion and leaving the rest for now.

Serena Lapointe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Whitecourt Press

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