Apology to citizens as staff admit report on asphalt issues on Red Hill Parkway hidden for years

Hamilton city staff have issued an extraordinary apology to the public after a damning report raising concerns about low friction levels of the asphalt of the deadly Red Hill Valley Parkway was kept under wraps for six years.

The extraordinary apology from Hamilton city staff was issued along with an urgent plan to improve the road

A 2013 report showed the friction of the pavement on the Red Hill Valley Parkway was lacking. The highway is a notorious one for collisions. (Bob Hatcher)

Hamilton city staff have issued an extraordinary apology to the public after admitting a damning report raising concerns about the friction levels of the asphalt on the deadly Red Hill Valley Parkway was kept under wraps for six years.

The city issued a statement late Wednesday saying it only just uncovered a November 2013 report from Tradewind Scientific. It's been kept secret — including from city councillors for all that time — even amid presentations about the need to do something from grieving parents whose children were killed on the road. 

That report tested the friction of the highway. It found friction levels along Red Hill were below expected standards and in some places, well below. Friction levels on the Lincoln Alexander Parkway were up to standard.

The press release said "On behalf of the City of Hamilton, staff apologize to Council and the general public for how this matter has come to their attention."

The city immediately changed the highway's speed limit from 90 km/h to 80 Wednesday. It also approved a consultant to usher major "rehabilitation" measures for the two highways. That will include spending millions for medians, barriers and better lighting on the Red Hill. And it will expedite a resurfacing of the highway planned for the spring.

It's news that comes too late for some families. In 2017, four families pleaded with council to improve the highways.

"How long is that going to take?" said Susan Sholar, whose son Michael, 25, died in a January 2017 crash. "How many people are going to die?"

The city has fielded concerns from residents about the slipperiness of Red Hill for years.

Police help requested

Council is urging drivers to be cautious and is looking for the help of police to keep speeds down on the road.

Council already planned millions in safety upgrades to the highways. But it didn't know about the report.

Dan McKinnon is general manager of public works, but wasn't in 2013. He said staff came across the report while planning upgrades to the highway.

The Red Hill Valley Parkway officially opened in 2007 after 50 years of debate. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

The city auditor will spend the next two months investigating just how and why it was kept under wraps.

Mayor Fred Eisenberger said council only learned of it Wednesday at a general issues committee meeting. The committee met behind closed doors for more than six hours.

He's "extremely disappointed," he said, but glad the report is coming to light now.

The reveal came amid a city report proposing major measures for the Red Hill and Lincoln Alexander parkways.

The city will spend $150,000 to create terms of reference for a "functional design" of the two highways, says a staff report. 

That design will include potential widening and connections to Highway 403 and the QEW, transit opportunities and safety enhancements such as lighting and medians. 

The city set aside $6.75 million last year and $8.75 million this year to rehabilitate the Red Hill. It will spend money on the Linc in 2020 and 2021.

The issue of safety on the highways has been a prevalent one in recent years.

City numbers from 2015 said in the decade since the road opened, there have been 201 collisions. Nineteen have involved crossing the median.

A consultant, CIMA+, said that year that the two highways needed about $10 million combined in repairs. It recommended $4,395,200 in safety measures on the Red Hill, and $5,966,090 on the Linc.

The city says it's been working "non-stop" on improvements since then, including installing bigger and better signs, and modified guardrails. The city did rolling closures on the Red Hill last July to install new pavement markers.

The Red Hill Valley Parkway in general has been a saga for Hamilton.

The Linc opened in 1997, the Red Hill about 10 years later. The latter was the result of 50 years of political bickering, and thousands of trees razed. Environmentalists were so passionate about the project that some of them temporarily lived in trees there.


Samantha Craggs is journalist based in Windsor, Ont. She is executive producer of CBC Windsor and previously worked as a reporter and producer in Hamilton, specializing in politics and city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca