TORONTO—Have you ever found yourself carefully threading your way through a highway road-repair site thinking “didn’t they just fix this?” If you’re in Ontario, your memory is serving you right. And you’re not alone. There are lots of patch jobs that didn’t last as long as they should. The situation is costing taxpayers millions and the substandard roads cost trucking companies untold amounts in wear-and-tear, delays and in fact accidents.
Last week, the province’s Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk indicated that she agrees. And that something has to be done about the situation.
Last week, she released her annual report and “found that new and rehabilitated roads throughout the province are requiring repairs far sooner than expected, and that these premature failures are costing taxpayers millions of dollars in additional expenditures.”
The report linked these problems directly to the lack of a rigorous and independent quality-assurance. “Contractors are ‘essentially monitoring themselves with respect to engineering and material quality,’” the report states.
The report said the Ontario Ministry of Transportation’s (MTO) increasing use of performance-based contracts has been a significant factor in this erosion of government oversight.Since these procurement arrangements (first introduced in 2010) require contractors to warrant that their work will meet specifications over defined periods of time, it was felt that independent testing and inspections were largely unnecessary.
As a result, contractors have been allowed to hire their own Quality Verification Engineers (QVEs) to certify that key construction activities are performed to appropriate standards, and to collect and submit their own asphalt samples for quality testing.
One body that’s particularly pleased with the report is the Canadian Council of Independent Laboratories (CCIL).
“We support the Auditor-General’s recommendations that MTO put in place the controls and processes that will restore independent oversight,” said Derwyn Reuber, Executive Director of CCIL. “This is critically important to assuring the public that their roads and bridges are safe and that their tax dollars are being spent wisely, especially now with the province planning to invest $18 billion on highway expansion and rehabilitation over the next 10 years.”
Reuber also applauded MTO’s response to the report. The Ministry said it will be developing an Action Plan that addresses the Auditor General’s observations and recommendations, and it will assume oversight of test samples starting next year.
“We’ve been urging the province to take a hard look at these issues, and we’re pleased that MTO is now moving forward,” Reuber commented. “We’re ready to work with Ministry officials in any way we can to help ensure that standards are being met and taxpayers are getting the best value for their money.”
Reuber added that his organization has been studying this particular issue for about four years and he’s confident that the majority of contractors don’t cut corners or intentionally mislead inspectors, adding, “but some do, and the temptation’s there, especially if they’re trying to save money.”
He said as far as he knows, this is an Ontario problem. “To the best of my knowledge other provinces are adhering to more traditional means of inspections,” Reuber said.