Asphalt likely partly to blame for road conditions in Windsor

When kids and parents head back-to-school and back-to-work next week it might be a bumpy ride on some of Windsor’s roads. Some believe the main reason for cracked, crumbling and pockmarked roads in our city is because of one thing: poor-quality asphalt.
A stretch of University Avenue West is seen in downtown WIndsor. (Geoff Nixon/CBC)

When kids and parents head back-to-school and back-to-work next week it might be a bumpy ride on some of Windsor's roads.

Some believe the main reason for cracked, crumbling and pockmarked roads in our city is because of one thing: asphalt.

Simon Hesp has been spreading his gospel that many roads in Ontario, including ones here in Windsor, are paved with poor-quality asphalt. Several local councillors are believers. Hesp has been invited to speak at a Windsor city council meeting and is set to come here soon to discuss his theories and findings regarding asphalt. 

In recent years, the quality of asphalt has gone down as the amount of additives in it have gone up, said the Queen's University professor in a phone interview with CBC News. 

In a bid to cut costs companies are adding anything and everything to asphalt, Hesp said.

"Engine oil [is] a big one, but they add all sorts of things, waste from the pulp-and-paper industry, waste from the pig farmers they're now trying to put in the asphalt — so anything goes," said Hesp, who spends much of his time these days studying and talking about asphalt.

Some producers of asphalt think Hesp is shoveling an oversimplified message to the masses.

"[Simon] Hesp would like to have everyone believe he has found a 'silver bullet' solution to potholes and cracking in roads, however this is simply not the case," said Doug Duke, the executive director of the Ontario Hot Mix Producers Association (OHMPA), in an e-mail interview with CBC. "OHMPA and its Quality of Asphalt Pavement Task Force has been looking at the pavement quality in Ontario for months and has been releasing bulletins citing a number of different reasons why some roads in the province may not be performing to expectation."

A mix of issues

Windsor did not crack the top 10 list of the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA)'s Worst Roads 2015 list, but it did take two of the top five spots in the south-west region of Ontario. Tecumseh Road East was in the lead, while Wyandotte Street East came in at No. 5.

Just as the asphalt on our roads is a mixture of things, so too are the reasons why some of roads here, and across Ontario, are in poor shape.

The quality of asphalt has indeed gone down over the past 30 years or so, said Mark Winterton, the City of Windsor's engineer, in a phone interview with CBC.

But, he also believes there are other factors that have led to two of Windsor's roads being voted the "worst" in a CAA poll this spring.

There are more, and heavier, trucks on roads than ever before and there could be some workmanship issues. But, the other main reason besides asphalt for the poor condition of some of our roads? Money. Or the lack thereof.

Hilary Payne, the councillor for Ward 9, said the quality of asphalt is likely part of the problem, adding that funding is also an issue.

"There's been a zero-tax increase in the last seven years and that has naturally led to lesser money being available to just about everything, including roads," said Payne in a phone interview with CBC.

Payne said he will continue to push for a one-per-cent road tax levy to "get roads into shape again."

Winterton agrees more money is needed and called for the provincial and federal governments to kick in a bit to fix the roads in this city.

The city engineer pointed out that on top of budget issues we have another issue very specific to Windsor.

"The city of Windsor is right on that climate where we get more freeze-thaw cycles than almost anywhere else in Canada [or] anywhere else in North America," explained Winterton. "And the freeze-thaw, the freezing and thawing of the ground over a winter is what really wreaks havoc on our roads."

One thing's for sure, whatever the cause — or causes — that have led to bumpy rides, most Windsorites would like smooth roads to drive and bike on this fall and beyond.

"[Residents] want a decent driving surface, not a road that's been patched and patched and re-patched," said Payne. 


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