'Not how you build a road': Annexed areas leave Edmonton with hefty repair bill

The city got less than it bargained for in a newly annexed part of Edmonton, where poorly constructed roads couldn't handle this summer's heavy rains, creating impassable conditions.

The city had budgeted about $400,000 to maintain the 70-kilometre road network that it acquired through the annexation of a portion of Leduc County earlier this year.

But that number is expected to balloon to $1.83-million by the end of the year, with much of the money being spent to rehabilitate about 40 kilometres of gravel roads.

"These roads are not much more than scraping out the dishes and piling the dirt in the middle and putting gravel on top. That is not how you build a road," Coun. Tim Cartmell said Monday following a meeting of the city's executive committee on Monday.

Dave Bajer/CBC

"They were bad. When it would get wet and saturated, they were virtually impassable. You'd get out of your driveway and you'd be swishing your way down the road, hoping you didn't end up in the ditch."

The roads in question are Range Roads 253, 254, 255 and 260, along with Township Road 510, located about 10 kilometres north of the Edmonton International Airport.

Reconstruction in distant future

Cartmell said council was surprised by the poor road conditions and the amount of work required to bring them up to standard.

He acknowledged the roads will eventually need to be replaced entirely, when the area is redeveloped from primarily agricultural lands to residential ones. But that's not expected to happen for decades, Cartmell said.

"It's finding that sweet spot of investing to make sure the people who live there and are paying taxes have access to their properties, versus not over-investing understanding that ultimately, those roads will come out and be replaced."

The roads transferred to the city had poor surface conditions, didn't have enough gravel and the base was made with softer, organic materials, according to a report that went to executive committee.

In 2019, the city spent about $45,000 per kilometre for gravel road maintenance in the newly annexed area, compared with about $12,000 per kilometre for similar roads in other parts of Edmonton. The total 2019 city operations budget for roads is $15.6 million.  

Eduardo Sosa, the city's director of infrastructure maintenance, said Edmonton's unseasonably wet summer contributed just as much to the problems this year, as did roads that didn't meet Edmonton construction standards.

"If we had the same weather that we had last year, we wouldn't have had the same challenges," he said. 

The rehabilitation work that was completed by August has improved road conditions, he said. Ongoing maintenance will also help to keep the roads passable, Sosa said.

The City of Edmonton's annexation of parts of Leduc County and Beaumont became effective Jan. 1, 2019.