Iqaluit overdue for new roads, sidewalks, public works director says

City roads, built with no standards, now crumbling under force of spring run-off

By PETER VARGA

Posts like these are used in Iqaluit to separate the sidewalks from the roads. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)


Posts like these are used in Iqaluit to separate the sidewalks from the roads. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

Recent spring melt and rain have exposed the weaknesses in Iqaluit’s roads and sidewalks, Keith Couture, the city’s director of public works, told council’s engineering and public works committee May 7.

These must be built anew with clear plans for a drainage system to carry water run-off out of the city, Couture said.

“Roads are a big issue here in Iqaluit, as everybody knows if you’ve driven around here lately,” Couture said. “We have a mess.”

Just 10 months into his post as public works director, Couture, with 30 years’ experience doing the same work in northern Ontario, described to the committee the lack of planning and standards that led to the state of Iqaluit’s roads.

The director hopes to help bring Iqaluit roads up to the same standard as other Canadian towns, with the help of a five-year $3.18 million capital project by the city’s engineering department, running from 2013 to 2017.

He outlined to the committee his vision of a plan to upgrade roads and sidewalks starting from the main downtown intersection of Federal Road and Mivvik St., known as the Four Corners.

“I think that that is the intersection where everything is going to take place,” Couture told the committee, which is a committee of the whole comprising all councillors.

Setting up a working water drainage system is the starting point, he said, and this means elevating roads leading out from the Four Corners intersection.

Couture estimated roads at the Four Corners would have to be built about 1.5 feet higher.

“If we set the proper elevation, which means probably raising the roads, raising the sidewalks — we can talk about developing a plan,” he said, which would run throughout the city from that central point.

The high-traffic area includes most of Iqaluit’s major buildings, offices, hotels and shopping areas.

“We get that starting point designed properly, with the proper elevation, then it’s all going to fall into place,” Couture told the committee.

Couture also called for elevated sidewalks as a key to directing water run-off, because these make it easier to build ditches. These elevated walkways would simplify the city’s snow-clearing operations, which is now complicated by irregular-shaped boulders and wooden posts spaced too closely to each other.

Building sidewalks, Couture said, should eliminate the need for the posts and boulders, and allow pedestrians to walk on a hard surface that doesn’t need as much maintenance as sandy walkways.

These posts and boulders, which have been in place for about six years, were put in around the city as part of a “Capital District and Core Area Redevelopment” plan. First introduced in 2004, that plan outlined what kinds of parks, sidewalks and parking there should be in Iqaluit’s centre.

Public works now wants to build the elevated roads up to modern city standards, unlike current roads, which don’t have solid foundations, Couture said.

“A true road is like a house, it’s built from the bottom up,” he said. “We don’t have ditching to draw the water off them. We don’t have the proper base (under the road surface).

“So if we get any run-off, where does it go? It goes under the surface of the road,” he said, which causes washouts and potholes.

“How did this evolve? Somebody built this to a different standard than what I’m used to — or whatever the standard was at the time,” said Couture. “Basically there was no quality control, from what I can gather.”

Asked if Iqaluit actually has road-construction standards, Couture said he has “never seen them,” although in typical Canadian cities, these would be set down in writing.

“They should be written down. In fact my long-range plan was to write standards,” he said — for both road maintenance and road construction. “That’s normal for any public works department.”

This calls for increased cooperation between public works and the city’s engineering department, he added.

When Coun. Terry Dobbin asked how soon residents can expect public works and engineering plans to show results, Couture said this depends on discussions he will have with the city’s engineering and sustainability director, Meagan Leach.

“They aren’t going to be reconstructed this year, that’s for sure,” said Couture, adding 2013 is likely to be a planning stage, with work to follow.

Public works is now doing immediate fixes to potholed and damaged roads, Couture said, and plans for road repair this year will not go further than that.

When Coun. Romeyn Stevenson asked about immediate repairs, Couture said his department got to work on potholed roads as soon as cold and dry weather set in. With excess water evaporated, grading operations were underway, he said.

“It’s a quick fix,” he said. “We put in some gravel that we can mix with sand, and spread it over the worst areas, which I don’t know what you could call the worst areas here, they’re so bad. “We’re going to try to make it using crisis-management.”

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