Whistler council endorsed the restructuring of the municipality’s road reconstruction schedule Tuesday (March 5), which could result in new asphalt providers for the resort.
The rescheduling means that the municipality’s Roads Department would take on larger roadwork projects every third year, with smaller maintenance work like asphalt patching and traffic signal improvements scheduled for off years.
“Several weeks ago now, the Finance and Audit Committee asked staff to explore options to change the schedule of our annual road reconstruction program with interest to reduce the overall cost of the program,” said the RMOW’s manager of transportation and solid waste, James Hallisey. “Specifically, we looked at changing our program of putting out a smaller tender every year to fix annual problems that crop up, to a larger amount (of work) every three years.”
Municipal staff recently consulted with a pavement specialist, who determined the overall pavement quality in Whistler would not be affected by the proposed scheduling change.
The rescheduling is expected to reduce the RMOW’s anticipated $4.15-million road reconstruction costs by $150,000 over the next five years.
“Because of the larger quantities of work, we could expect some lower unit rates for some major items,” said Hallisey. “A larger tender quantity will allow the contractors to have a better efficiency of scale and possibly give us some lower unit rates.”
Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, who sits on the Finance and Audit Committee, sees it as a way to attract larger asphalt companies to the resort that may not have been interested before due to the municipality’s smaller road projects.
“This is one of the things that we were considering; that if there are larger projects there may be other asphalt companies who may be interested in coming up,” she said. “One of the things that we’ve heard in the past was that our road reconstruction program wasn’t big enough to attract contractors from the city. This is a way of perhaps attracting some of those contractors.”
In July, a trail and road reconstruction tender valued at $666,484 was awarded to Whistler Aggregates Ltd., stipulating that any asphalt used had to be sourced from a plant located at least three kilometers from residential areas, making the resort’s controversial asphalt plant next to the Cheakamus Crossing neighborhood ineligible.
That asphalt plant has drawn the ire of some local residents, who see the facility and Whistler Aggregates quarry as a major public nuisance and pollutant in the area. Cheakamus Crossing resident Judy Bonn started a petition last month asking the province to revoke Whistler Aggregates licence of occupation.
On Feb. 25, Whistler Aggregates owner Frank Silveri secured a one-year temporary use permit to locate a mobile asphalt plant at the Green River Pit near Pemberton.
Despite the projected cost savings and the incentives to bring larger contractors to the resort, municipal staff identified several possible drawbacks to the scheduling overhaul.
“There is a limited season in Whistler for road construction,” said Hallisey. “(Contractors) would need to bring some additional crew and equipment to town to get it all done in our season. That may reduce our potential cost savings that we’re going to see.”
Hallisey told council that careful planning would be required to ensure that major roadwork would not be scheduled during major events or particularly busy periods in the resort.
“You won’t see asphalt being replaced on Village Gate Boulevard in August. It’s just not compatible,” he said.
There could also be additional costs incurred on utility projects that require roadwork, he explained.
“What we found in the past is with our utility projects — we have to go and replace a section of sewer main or a section of water main in the centre of the road — when we included road repaving as part of that general contract, the unit rates that came back from paving work were actually quite high,” he said. “It was actually saving us quite a bit of money by pulling those pieces out of the general contract and doing them as part of our annual road reconstruction work.
“The drawback is that if we’re going to dig up a road to replace a water main, we can’t leave it that way for a couple years, it has to get fixed right away.”
Staff proposed beginning major road projects in 2014, following an upcoming engineering study on all of Whistler’s road surfaces that was last conducted in 2008.
Coun. Duane Jackson welcomed the three-year road work cycle during Tuesday’s meeting.
“What it’s really going to do is expedite some of the more needy roads that are in our long-term program into next year, which will maybe give us a bit of breathing space,” he said. “We’re not really delaying anything, in fact we’re accelerating something to test an idea to see if there are any savings in it. There is really no downside to this given that it’s right behind our 2013 study.”