MTO spokesman denies polystyrene causes black ice

by Alicia McCutcheon

HILLY GROVE—It was brought to the Expositor’s attention that Pioneer Construction, the company awarded the $5.3 million contract for construction along Highway 6, north from South Baymouth, is installing polystyrene (Styrofoam) along sections of the highway.

Bill Olfert of Espanola contacted The Expositor last week after he spotted the polystyrene being used on a trip to South Baymouth with his wife to board the Chi-Cheemaun for a sunset dinner cruise.

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“It was last Thursday afternoon when I saw the insulation being laid,” he said. “It was definitely a swampy area of the highway.”

Seeing the polystyrene, Mr. Olfert said he remembered his father talking about his daily carpool from Espanola to Crean Hill as a miner. During the 1970s, that stretch of Highway 17 was undergoing construction and the men, on their way to work, saw the use of polystyrene in the construction process. After that, Mr. Olfert’s father said the road was never the same, with black ice appearing every winter after that.
“That area got very slippery,” he said. ” Drivers found that this stretch of insulated highway was often covered with Black Ice, when the rest of the highway was bare pavement, due to the difference in the surface temperature. There were numerous accidents in this area. After that, my father wrote a letter to then- Minister of Transportation and Communications James Snow. He wrote back, saying that it was never used in the construction process. He basically called those men liars when there was a carpool of guys who had seen it.”

“This variation in temperature is the same principal that causes a bridge to ice before the roadway does,” Mr. Olfert continued. “Signs are posted at bridges warning of these conditions, and I hope signs will be posted in these areas of insulated roadbed.”

A call to the Ministry of Transportation’s Gordan Rennie, regional issues and media advisor, confirmed the use of polystyrene along two locations of “pavement distress” on Highway 6.

“Polystyrene will limit the depth of sub-excavation, simplify staging and ensure we remain above the water table for these treatment areas,” he continued. “Polystyrene has been used widely across Northeastern Ontario to mitigate frost issues. The ministry mitigates against different icing conditions between sections with or without polystyrene through the engineering design, including depth of burial, end treatments and site selection.”

Mr. Rennie noted that construction is on schedule for completion by the end of September with remaining work including curb and gutter work and paving, which will start after this weekend. Motorists will encounter single lane restrictions while work is underway, he added.