Time to fix some roads

There was a time we made it our business to travel every nook and cranny in Guelph-Eramosa Township. Not so much, anymore.

Heading down a portion of the 4th Line of old Eramosa last week, south of County Road 22 and north of Highway 124, we hazard to guess that some roads in the third world are in better condition.

To be fair, this has been an unseasonably odd winter and the recent temperatures have played havoc with what would typically be a frozen road bed. There is little to do under those circumstances but wait until better weather returns.

But residents here sure deserve better this spring.

The 4th Line upgrades have been part of roads plans for decades. But, as seems to happen with regularity in Eramosa (now Guelph-Eramosa), priorities change like the weather. As we have lamented with other such cases, no-one is to blame in particular, but many are at fault.

We challenge members of council to drive that road regularly until it is rebuilt. Quickly they will experience repairs to their vehicles whether it is the premature need for tie rods, constant brake jobs or rattles. The incessant car washing that goes along with such a poor road is not without cost either. This time of year particularly, there is little more annoying than getting to work or school and rubbing a pant-leg on the side of the car while exiting, only to be covered in a gravelly slime.

Of course those issues are no laughing matter for residents, some of whom have waited generations to see their road improved.

Around this township and others, tens of millions of dollars in assessment remain under serviced. Severances and rural lots add tax resources to township coffers. Offsetting that increased assessment is an implied obligation to provide services to those residents, too.

Through what can only be described as folly, upgrades to the remaining gravel roads here and elsewhere continue to be put off in favour of soft services like programming and parks and recreation pursuits that in the longer term will prove unsustainable – unless of course, the majority of residents choose to coalesce with a road system of haves and have-nots.

One of the more startling statements we have heard over the years is that those who buy on gravel can stay on gravel. Since the township has been the recipient of a heavy influx of new residents in the past 30 years it is very easy for some history to be overlooked.

Many of the secondary roads were surfaced and re-surfaced from funds contributed by the very folks still living on gravel – and their contemporaries.

The last numbers we analyzed suggested surface treatments have a seven year payback, meaning once the investment is made, surface-treated roads are more cost effective than gravel. That is a general rule of thumb, with exceptions, but generally the township can get ahead if a program is put in place.

Another little bit of history is that changing funding arrangements over the years caused deviations from well-intentioned plans. For decades the Ministry of Transportation worked closely with townships for funding needs and the provision of advice on everything from bridges to roads. Prior to that program being dissolved, excellent cost sharing models existed. One hiccup along the way was a shift from funding roads to rolling stock, meaning trucks and equipment. That took many townships off stride in their efforts to develop and maintain infrastructure.

For a long stretch of time townships had to fund their own needs 100%. That, of course, aggravated residents facing hefty tax increases whose councils purposely raised rates to keep a lid on the infrastructure deficit that was growing in very real financial terms each year.

Since that tough financial time, funding arrangements resumed under a tri-partite funding model, making it easier to complete those capital works. Similar to the rolling stock policy 20 plus years ago, this latest round of funding opened up the door for councils to shift priorities and choose to fund soft services.

Residents on gravel deserve better. It is 2012 after all.