MTO should be paving major highways on Manitoulin: MPP Mantha

A section of Highway 540.

MANITOULIN—Complaints about the state and safety of Island highways has raised the ire of Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Michael Mantha. Roadwork to remediate deplorable road conditions on Highways 542 and 551 was not completed by the Ministry of Transportation as promised by August 15 and sightlines are blocked by uncut grass along the sides of highways.

“Why do we have to accept substandard highways and secondary roads?” he asked. “This would never be accepted in Muskoka. They should be paving Highways 542 and 551, our major traffic arteries, that should be welcoming tourists and bicycles.”

MPP Mantha told The Expositor he would “absolutely” be approaching the Minister of Transportation on this issue. “The ministry is not meeting what they said and everyone expected the work on the roads to be finished by August 15. People are frustrated with damage being done to their vehicles because of this. What we are seeing is unsafe conditions. There is dust control and grading that needs to be done.”

On August 19, MPP Mantha told the legislature, “today is the start of the 139th Providence Bay Fall Fair. This a popular and mainstay event on Manitoulin that brings people from far and wide for fun and entertainment. Meanwhile, Highways 551 and 542 remain in a state of disrepair.”

“I can understand the people of Manitoulin’s frustration as to the quick fix by the MTO to these roads,” he said. “The pulverizing of roads has caused large chunks of the road to have damaged windows and tires of vehicles, not to mention the dust on the roads.”

“None of this would be accepted in Muskoka, so why should Manitoulin Island, the largest freshwater island in the world, do so?” MPP Mantha continued. “The roads should be done once, so do them once, do them right and pave our highways.”

On the second weekend in August, MPP Mantha said he travelled most of Saturday on Highways 551 and 542 on the way to Sheshegwaning First Nation, wanting to see the roadwork that was done last year. They had just graded and repacked the roads on that Friday so they were relatively nice, he said. “Not to the standard we expect down south, but the dust was down and chunks of pavement were not all over the roads,” he said.

In an August 18 letter to MPP Mantha, Minister of Transportation Caroline Mulroney wrote in part, “There are several highways on Manitoulin Island which are primarily surface treated, including sections of Highways 542, 551 and 540. The Ministry of Transportation is responsible for approximately 1,900 kilometres of secondary surface treated highways across the Northeastern Region. The road condition is evaluated in detail biennially, and those condition ratings are used to prioritize upcoming highway improvement programs.”

“Surface treatment rehabilitation is typically completed on a five-year cycle. Regular highway surface rehabilitation is required to ensure that a safe driving surface is maintained for the travelling public.”

“The surface treatment application process includes pulverizing the existing highway surface, applying a layer of asphalt emulsion, and the application of a cover aggregate. Fine grain material is typically present in the cover aggregate which can result in the presence of unsettled aggregate during construction operations. This fine grain material is an important aspect of the surface treatment process which helps to enable a high-performing final product once construction is complete.”

In her letter, the minister acknowledged her ministry is aware of concerns regarding unsettled aggregate to the ongoing rehabilitation of surface treated highways on Manitoulin. She said the ministry has ensured that calcium dust suppressant has been regularly applied along the stretches of highways where work is currently underway, and where possible, those sections under construction have been wet down to minimize dusty conditions.

However, she wrote, calcium dust suppression cannot be applied prior to the application of asphalt emulsion and once that has been applied, the highway surface cannot be regularly wet down in order for the emulsifier to fully dry to cure properly.

“The Ministry of Transportation appreciates that ongoing construction operations and resulting unsettled aggregate can be both inconvenient and frustrating for area residents,” Minister Mulroney continued. “However, the ministry is working diligently to mitigate these conditions while still ensuring that the final highway surface is high quality, resilient, and safe for the travelling public.”

The sections of highway where asphalt emulsion has been applied and has fully dried were to be swept by August 26. Other sections of highway will be swept one to two weeks following emulsion application, “provided the emulsion has fully cured.” All sections of surface treated highways currently being rehabilitated on Manitoulin are scheduled to be fully completed by the end of September.

In a related issue, MPP Mantha said that in discussions with Ken Noland, reeve of Burpee and Mills Township, MTO failed to keep a commitment made to utilize washed stone as a pilot project in Evansville back in 2010, after Reeve Noland raised concerns about a three kilometre section of surface work along Highway 540 within the township.

A letter to Reeve Noland in August 2010 from Mr. Doidge said a new surface treatment on Highway 540 through Evansville was scheduled within “a few years time.”

“When the ministry begins planning for that project, we will contact the township to review options for a pilot project using washed aggregate or slurry seal,” Mr. Doidge wrote.

“The minister said she is reviewing this information, but basically it’s ‘oops, we forgot,” MPP Mantha said. “The reeve told me that MTO has already laid gravel and packed it down, so it’s more likely not going to be happening in this round of road work.”

“The MTO has a five-year plan for resurfacing roads and we all know they will be redoing the work on these roads,” he said. “I will be following this, and I will be looking at working with the ministry on whether it is more cost efficient and better for the roads to be resurfaced or if asphalt paving would be better.”

Another local resident, Alvin Sloss, raised concerns that grass cutting on Highway 542 south of Gore Bay towards Spring Bay, has not been done on the sides of highways.

“They didn’t cut the grass in the spring and it still hasn’t been done,” Mr. Sloss said. “It’s a safety issue, with people pulling out of driveways not being able to see vehicles or vehicles on the highway not being able to see them.”

Grant Buck, assistant to MPP Mantha, told Mr. Sloss the MTO had replied to his concerns in a letter dated August 16, stating MTO had delayed the cutting of milkweed along Highway 542 to preserve Monarch butterfly habitat during key periods for the species. The letter stated the ministry’s maintenance contractor has received clearance to proceed with cutting of brush in this area and work was anticipated to begin that week.

For immediate concerns with respect to highway maintenance, Emcon Services is the ministry’s maintenance contractor and can be contacted 24/7 at 1-844-362-6615.