Leave crummy pavement alone, council urged

Engineer recommends spending road funds to upgrade water, sewage



When it comes to paving these days, the city’s engineer has a lot of news on his hands.

“The good news is it’s not nearly as bad as I thought it would be,” Brad Sokach told council shortly after he received a review of the city’s road surface quality.

“The bad news is, it isn’t really good quality.”

The news released at the Dec. 9 meeting was bad enough that Sokach wants to suspend future paving until the problem is fixed. But the project is already three years behind schedule because of poor-quality paving and bureaucratic delays.

The latest setback means after tax hikes to fund the project in a much-touted capital spending plan, Nunavut’s capital city will be plagued by potholes for at least a year longer than expected.

But Sokach sees a silver lining.

He wants council to take the $2 million earmarked for paving the roads in 2004 and spend it on water and sewage services. Sokach said the city needs to deal with deteriorating waterlines, and the disproportionate cost of trucking water and sewage around the city, before spending more money on pavement.

Sokach said trucking water and sewage costs more than twice as much as utilidors. Budget estimates show the city pays $800,000 for the 60 per cent of the city that uses utilidors. Trucking costs about twice as much for the remaining 40 per cent of the population. Sokach and city administration suggest the paving money could be used more efficiently by building more utilidors.

In an interview, Sokach explained that although the city’s five-year capital plan sets aside money for both paving and the water and sewage improvements, council can move funds around as it sees fit.

“I think the capital plan has wants and it has needs,” Sokach said. “Paved roads are a want. Water and sewer, in my opinion, [are] a need.”

Next year’s budget pressures also come into play. Council won’t have enough money to fund certain projects, such as sidewalks, unless it sells some of its buildings. With the purse strings tied tight, Sokach said the city has to re-evaluate what parts of the capital plan it can fund under obligations to the territorial government.

He plans to meet with government representatives in January to review his timeline and budget recommendations, and bring them to council shortly thereafter.

During the last council meeting, councillors immediately raised questions about who would get stuck with the bill for the city’s lacklustre paving. Sokach assured them that contractors had been penalized for using poor-quality asphalt, but added that at least one more penalty had yet to be paid.

But the city could get stuck with future paving costs from the low-grade asphalt. Cracks and potholes will appear two years sooner than expected, and entire top layers of the road will need to be replaced prematurely, Sokach said. That means the city will need to spend more on the roads, sooner than it would have if they were paved correctly in the first place.

But Sokach cautioned that council shouldn’t put the entire blame on the contractor, Baffin Building Systems. Although the company used asphalt that didn’t meet standards set out in its $1.6-million contract, Sokach said it made “substantial” efforts to get the right mix. Sokach said other delays in the project were caused by bureaucracy before he took over the city’s engineering department in May.

Sokach said the review he commissioned in August, which was presented to council in draft form this month, suggests the main problem with the paving project seems to be the lack of quality sand recommended for Iqaluit’s climate.

Baffin Building Systems declined to comment on the issue before press time.

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