Printed and Published by Nova Scotia Hansard Reporting Services
Mr. Graham Steele (Chairman)
Mr. James DeWolfe (Vice-Chairman)
Mr. John Chataway
Mr. Gary Hines
Mr. Howard Epstein
Ms. Marilyn More
Mr. Daniel Graham
Mr. David Wilson (Glace Bay)
Ms. Diana Whalen
Ms. Mora Stevens
Legislative Committee Coordinator
Mr. Roy Salmon
Department of Transportation and Public Works
Mr. Brian Stonehouse
Mr. Martin Delaney
Executive Director Highway Operations
Mr. Brian Gallivan
Director Policy and Planning
Mr. Ralph Hessian
Highway Engineering Services
Mr. Bruce Fitzner
Director Highway Operations
HALIFAX, WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 1, 2004
STANDING COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC ACCOUNTS
Mr. Graham Steele
Mr. James DeWolfe
MR. JAMES DEWOLFE (Chairman): Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to call this Standing Committee on Public Accounts to order. I certainly want to welcome senior officials from the Department of Transportation and Public works with us today. I would like to begin by introducing our committee to you, beginning with Mr. Epstein.
[The committee members introduced themselves.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: I'm Jim DeWolfe, MLA for Pictou East, and beside me is the clerk for the committee, Mora Stevens, I believe you all know. I also would like to welcome the Auditor General, Roy Salmon. It's always a pleasure to have you with us, Roy. Mr. Stonehouse, I'm going to turn the floor over to you now and ask you to introduce your guests and provide us with a few opening remarks.
MR. BRIAN STONEHOUSE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I thank members of the committee for the invitation to speak with you today on operational matters of the Department of Transportation and Public Works. With me this morning, to my left, is Martin Delaney, Martin is the Executive Director of Highway Operations; to my right is Brian Gallivan who is the Director of Transportation Policy and Planning; to Brian's right is Ralph Hessian, Director of Highway Engineering Services and I should also add that Ralph acts in the capacity of the Provincial Traffic Authority and also is the Chairman of the Road Safety Advisory Committee. To my far right is Bruce Fitzner, the Director of Highway Operations.
Let me begin by saying that Transportation and Public Works is a large and visible department with a diverse mandate. Our clients include the public as well as other provincial government departments and agencies. Our core businesses are managed and delivered by our Highway Operations, Public Works, Government Services divisions. Their responsibilities include the construction, maintenance and operation of provincial roads, bridges, ferries, highway planning and design, the construction and maintenance of provincial buildings as well as managing the School Construction Program. We manage the corporate information technology needs of government including the Provincial Data Centre and we also manage the phone services on behalf of all government as well as the trunk mobile radio service. We also manage approximately 1.5 million square feet of leased space on behalf of government.
By far, Highway Operations is the largest service that the department provides. It costs 78 per cent of the department's operating budget and 81 per cent of our staff complement. The highway system is comprised of approximately 23,000 kilometres of roads and 4,000 bridges which represents 90 per cent of the entire road network in the province. The balance, 10 per cent, relates to municipal roads and streets.
In this current fiscal year, we are spending approximately $261 million on highways and bridges, $113 million in new capital work and $148 million in highway operations. We are also in year two of our five-year, $50 million steel truss bridge replacement program. Major capital construction projects on Nova Scotia's 100-Series Highways this year include Highway No. 103 near Tantallon, Highway No. 103 near Barrington and the twinning of Highway No. 125.
Our goal is to deliver a safe and cost-effective highway program to the public. This is done through our own experience and dedicated workforce and by capable and responsible contractors. Currently, department staff perform 90 per cent of all winter maintenance work, 10 per cent is contracted. Traditionally, all major capital work is contracted through public tender, as well, the RIM work is contracted through public tender as well. Department staff still carry out the majority of routine summer maintenance. We believe a balanced workforce works well and with the exceptions of provinces such as B.C., Alberta and Ontario, where virtually all highway work is contracted to the private sector, most other jurisdictions use a combination of own forces and contracted services. We believe this to be a good model that offers the best opportunity to provide quality, cost-effective services to the public.
Earlier this year, the road safety portfolio was transferred to Transportation and Public Works from Service Nova Scotia. People's safety on our highways is a primary concern. Last year, traffic fatalities were at a five-year low. This year tells a different, more unfortunate story. It looks like 2004 could be one of the highest years for fatalities in the last six. Impaired driving, the non-use of seatbelts and speeding are the primary causes.
Nova Scotia has a good safety record in comparison to the results of Canadian provinces and territories. According to Transport Canada's recent collision statistics, Nova Scotia ranked third among provinces and territories. However, we need to continue to focus our efforts to reduce fatalities and injuries caused by motor vehicle crashes. Our Road Safety Advisory Committee helps government develop road safety priorities and programs. The committee includes members of non-profit organizations, government, industry, police and others. Road safety partners are working towards reaching benchmarks set by road safety division 2010, a national plan to reduce the number of road users killed and seriously injured by the year 2010.
In addition to highways and road responsibilities, Transportation and Public Works provides policy advice on appropriate measures for government to take in support of rail, marine and air transport. The ability to make changes in transportation policy is very much dependent on the consent of Transport Canada since most transportation policy matters are under the direct responsibility of the federal government.
We have been active and aggressive in advocating Nova Scotia's interests with the federal government. For example, Nova Scotia has taken the lead at the national transportation forum on air liberalization and small airport viability. Transport Canada has shown a willingness to provide avenues to respond in a meaningful way to address these issues. These developments could result in major benefits for the province and to the Atlantic region as a whole.
In closing, I would just like to say that all Transportation and Public Works responsibilities and operations are carried out by well-trained and dedicated public servants who do their best to provide quality service to the public. This concludes my remarks, Mr. Chairman.
MR. CHAIRMAN: We'll begin questioning with 20-minute intervals, with the NDP.
Mr. Charles Parker.
MR. CHARLES PARKER: Good morning, gentlemen. We certainly welcome this opportunity to have a few minutes to raise some issues and hopefully get some answers. My first question to you is around privatization. We've been hearing quite a bit around the department stating that we're getting a good bang for our buck, the better deal for taxpayers and it's costing us less money. However, my first question is around accountability for this. In the end it's the taxpayers that are footing this bill and making sure that the job is being done properly. How do you go about determining whether we are getting the better bang for our buck, who actually is inspecting the work the private contractors do, and who's paying for that inspection?
MR. STONEHOUSE: Very broadly, it starts with the process that we do use. We do publicly tender for these services. We try to construct our packages such that they are of a size that invites competition. Most of our highway contracts are based on unit prices, so we pay exactly for the work that is being done. We do have penalties in our contract, we have holdbacks if the work is deficient, and we do have our own site inspectors who inspect the work. Generally, we believe that those are the mechanisms we have in place to ensure that we get good value and that the work is done appropriately.
MR. PARKER: The work is inspected by department staff, and it's in your budget to pay for that inspection service?
MR. STONEHOUSE: That is correct.
MR. PARKER: I've had the opportunity in the past to raise in this House a couple of issues around privatization, that there's evidence that it's not always the best bang for the buck or it is actually costing more money. The one that's perhaps the most familiar here is on the West Black Rock Road in Kings County, where a contractor was paid, I think it was $146,000 and change for a job that wasn't satisfactory, and the department had to come in behind them and put sand down and try to remediate a job that was poorly done and was causing many problems for drivers.
There are other examples. Recently in the news there was an example in Beechville where brush cutting was taking place and the sticks or the twigs were left right on the side of the road, sort of a danger to the driving public. I believe the department had to come in and clean up that particular work as well. In Harrietsfield there's an example of shouldering work, I understand, that eroded away with the rain, and then again the department had to come in and more or less redo the job.
I come from Pictou County, and I know of a couple of other examples there that came to my attention. One was where there was bush cutting going on, and the private operator had no signs, so it was a safety issue. The department had to come in and put signs up, ahead and behind the operator. So that was taking department time and staff. Secondly, there was an incident that came to attention just recently where there were two excavators putting a culvert across a road. Again, there was no signage. So the department had to come in and put signs up, warning people that there was work going on.
There's some evidence that contracting out is actually not as safe as it should be, and it's certainly costing more money, where the department has to come in behind the private operator and then do the job properly. My question is, who's responsible in cases like that for paying the extra cost? Is the department absorbing that cost, or is it held back from the contractor? How are the extra costs being paid?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Delaney, would you like to answer that one?
MR. MARTIN DELANEY: I think you raised two or three questions there. One was how we determine whether or not the RIM program is indeed effective or cost-effective. We certainly review, on an ongoing basis, the prices we receive from contracted work and compare them with our internal costs for doing the same. Certainly our experience to date has been that the costs we received are 10 to 20 and sometimes significantly higher than that, saving over what we can provide with our own forces. Most of the RIM work that we do tends to be production-run type work, asphalt patching for example or spreader patching, gravelling, ditching. Contractors, to some extent, are better equipped to do that production work than our own staff. We do those comparisons, and the comparisons have always borne up the cost side of the issue.
In terms of the quality of the work, we'd certainly, as the deputy indicated, by contract and by inspection, ensure that the contractor meets the standards that we set. Are there slippages sometimes? I expect there are, as there are with our own staff. A couple of issues you mentioned, for example, would be brush cutting. It's not uncommon for us to get complaints for brush cutting. Most of the brush cutting we do with our own staff, and it's not uncommon to have some complaints about the slash that's left by a brush cutter. If a contractor carried out the same work, you may have the same type of issue.
In general, with other items that the contractor carries out, if the contractor meets the provisions of the contract, then he's paid; if he doesn't meet the provisions of the contract, he either has to go back and correct it or he doesn't get paid for the work carried out.
MR. PARKER: For example, in the case here with the West Black Rock Road, $146,000 was paid to the contractor. The work was not satisfactory, and it certainly cost the department more money to remediate the problem. Was the contractor asked to return the money, or was it something the department paid for the second time?
MR. DELANEY: In terms of the West Black Rock Road and the specifics of the payment to the contractor, I don't have it at my fingertips. The $146,000, I believe, was for a RIM tender that included several roads, including the Black Rock Road. My understanding is that the gravel provided, which was an M-standard, met the department specs. Obviously there were complaints about some flat tires. Our forces went back in after the contract was completed and added some sand. In that case, we would obviously pick up the additional cost if the material supplied met our specifications. Additional costs that we would undertake to correct what appeared to be a problem in that instance would be picked up by the department.
MR. PARKER: So there's certainly some additional costs then to the department when private contractors don't do the job right the first time.
MR. DELANEY: My understanding is that in that case the private contractor met the department standards. For any type of gravel there are ranges for the specification. The gravel was on the rockier side, if you wish, of the specification, but still met the standard that we would ask.
MR. PARKER: Now I'd like to move on to Winter maintenance, around Winter snow removal. Again, I believe Mr. Stonehouse mentioned that 90 per cent of the work is done by your own department staff and 10 per cent is done by private contractors. I believe that has gone up to 10 per cent over the last few years. It was less than that not too far back. I guess the concern that I'm hearing is around some of the private contractors taking a long time to get their work done. They put a contract in for so much per hour, and it looks attractive because it's perhaps less money than what's been determined that the department can do it for. But when you take many more hours to complete the work, then it's costing more money in the long run. I've heard of cases like this in Cape Breton and certainly here on the mainland, as well. How do you determine if the job is value for the money when the rate is lower but in actual fact it's costing more money to get the job done?
MR. DELANEY: Well, first of all, when we evaluate the contract submissions, we
only issue tenders to contractors where the price demonstrates a cost saving over what our own staff can provide, that's clearly demonstrated by the tenders we called this Fall. We called 27 tenders for contracted equipment and issued 13 or 14 tenders. The others were rejected because the costs submitted in this round were higher than we felt we could do with our own staff.
Now to your question about the relative efficiency in terms of a per hour rate, that's certainly an issue that CUPE has raised before and an issue that we've reviewed as well. Before the work is done it is virtually impossible to do that comparison but after the season we do comparisons on total costs for doing equivalent routes, and we're satisfied that the prices we've received and the services we've received are in keeping with our objectives.
MR. PARKER: The other issue around that, I've heard not only is it costing more money in the long run, even though the hourly rate is lower, in some cases the private contractor is not even completing the work. They are contracted to do a certain number of kilometres in an area and they're slow because people are wanting to get out to work or have to get somewhere. The department staff is actually coming in with your own machines to complete the job. I've heard of that but I'd like to get your thoughts on it, is that happening where a contractor is contracted to do a certain number of kilometres but he doesn't get it done in a time-efficient manner, the department has finished their route and is going in to complete the private contractor's work?
MR. DELANEY: If I can answer that, certainly on any route structure that we've set up there's always some plow that finishes ahead of the others. Typically, whether it's our equipment or rented equipment, if there's still additional work to be done then we'll
reallocate resources from another route to clean it up. We do that with our private equipment; it worked the other way in terms of a contractor cleaning up part of a route that we weren't able to successfully complete, and we'll continue. In both cases, the contractor is paid by the hour so if we're using him to clean up part of our own route it costs us, but it costs us the other way around as well; it works both ways.
I might just point out that in terms of the rationale for contracting out some Winter service, in general, the department simply doesn't have enough work for the amount of equipment we require to provide Winter service. A lot of that equipment simply isn't needed for our Summer maintenance program and tends to be single-use equipment. Loader plows is a good example, they don't have a lot of Summer use; otherwise, we have them for one season, just for the Winter. By taking advantage of competitive prices we're having some equipment provided by the private sector that we don't have to shell out a lot of additional capital, money for equipment.
MR. PARKER: Mr. Delaney or Mr. Deputy Minister, I have here - I'm going to table this information - a contract that was let in Sydney, Cape Breton and it's around salt service on a number of kilometres in the Sydney area. The facts and information I have - and I'd like to table this if I could, I have extra copies I would like to give to the members - basically show in this particular case, the department is able to do the work considerably cheaper than the private contractor.
On the first page it shows a salt truck, an 06 truck that did 87 kilometres of service and the total cost was $127,916. The same year, the same area, a private contractor was doing similar work - and they actually did less kilometres, 81 kilometres - and it cost $151,613. So there is a savings here by the department doing their own work of almost $25,000 and they covered more territory, about six kilometres more. So it looks rather obvious to me that there's an additional cost by contracting this out to the private sector. I would like to know what analysis was done to determine value for money in a case like this?
MR. DELANEY: In terms of a specific piece of equipment - and certainly I appreciate the input and the question - what we would have to do is review the information you provided and get back to you with a response on that.
MR. PARKER: It appears certainly that the private operator is costing the department $25,000 almost, for slightly less coverage. It appears to be an example to me that contracting out is costing the department and the taxpayers of this province more money. I would certainly appreciate it if you can get back to me on that and perhaps determine are the taxpayers getting value for the money in this case.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Stonehouse, do you want to respond to that remark?
MR. STONEHOUSE: Not on this particular one but just to say that we will certainly give you an undertaking to get back to review this. I don't think we should miss the point that this current year when we did tender for 27 pieces of equipment for Winter clearing, we only awarded 14. The other 13, I believe, we decided we can do them more cost effectively in-house. I think that is a demonstration that we do look at these things in a manner that provides best value for the taxpayer.
Some of those contracts were previously done by the private sector and were brought back in-house, so we do an analysis of those costs. On this particular one coming at the time it does, we will have a look at it and will give you an undertaking that we will respond.
MR. PARKER: I'd like to raise an issue, I noticed in the material you gave us, in your budget under Capital Equipment there's $6 million allocated for capital equipment this year. That doesn't sound like a lot of money for the size of the fleet and the size of the service that's provided to Nova Scotians. I guess I'm asking based on that, it appears that you're deferring a lot of the needs in the department for maintenance and I know there is certainly more and more work going to the private sector. What is the department's intention in terms of capital equipment replacement, in light of the fact we've been talking about private contractors getting more and more of the work? Can you give us some insight into that?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Delaney, would you like to respond?
MR. DELANEY: Yes, I can. For approximately the last four years we've been investing about $6 million in replacement of our equipment fleet. Is that enough? I suppose in many ways budgets for many items are never quite enough. Our estimate of the actual replacement cost to keep our current equipment inventory in good condition and replaced at the appropriate age is about $10.5 million so there is a gap there. It's a gap of $4 million in equipment but on the other hand there are gaps in terms of the condition of our roads, as well. I know that you're all familiar with the 10-year needs study that showed a $3.4 billion need over the next 10 years.
Obviously, there are some gaps in equipment as well and one of our strategies for dealing with that - because equipment is expensive and the loader I talked about before is about $200,000 to buy, maybe a bit more, $225,000 for a grader or a fully-equipped tandem truck. Those are very expensive pieces of equipment and when we can't use them on a year-round basis, they end up being costs that you have to write off over four months. Another reason why we're trying to move some of this excess to the private sector, again when it's cost effective to do so.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The time has expired for the NDP. I'll turn our attention now to the Liberal caucus.
The honourable member for Cape Breton West.
MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, I thank our guests for appearing today. My first question is with regard to the Capital Transportation Authority. There's a bill before the House with regard to that. I would ask the deputy minister if he could perhaps enlighten us as to the status of that particular issue, because it stalled in the last session of the Legislature because of the lack of detail. I know there have been considerable discussions with HRM officials. Would the deputy be kind enough to bring us up to speed on that?
MR. STONEHOUSE: At this point in time, we are building the regulatory framework that would define the structure and the mandate of that organization. That will be discussed with HRM, which will, I think, provide the detail for those who were looking for detail. We hope to have that done probably within the next couple of months, and certainly ready for the Spring session.
MR. MACKINNON: One of the issues, obviously, is the transfer of assets and liabilities. Is the deputy in any position to be able to indicate, in general form, as to what that would entail?
MR. STONEHOUSE: There are really two separate issues here. One is the transportation authority and the other one is the realignment of highway responsibilities within HRM. We have discussions underway currently with the HRM on a transfer of some rural road responsibilities as it relates to the bridges.
MR. MACKINNON: Has there been any discussion whatsoever, in any way, shape or form, with regard to toll highways?
MR. STONEHOUSE: No.
MR. MACKINNON: I ask that because recently the Metro Chamber of Commerce had an economic summit issue, as some of you may be aware, suggesting that that wouldn't be such a bad idea.
MR. STONEHOUSE: The policy of this government is no toll roads.
MR. MACKINNON: Just shifting the focus slightly, with regard to the federal-provincial highway agreements, I know there have been some discussions with regard to utilizing that - for lack of a better expression - special infrastructure fund that the federal government announced several years ago. A certain percentage is allotted to Nova Scotia. I believe somewhere in the vicinity of $60 million is still outstanding. What is the status of that, with the federal government?
MR. STONEHOUSE: We refer those to the Canada Strategic Infrastructure Fund. The proportion of the funding that the province receives is essentially population-based. So we usually get in the area of 3 per cent of whatever the funding program is. There have been two separate announcements. The first one, the CSIF, we have an agreement with the federal government of approximately $61 million that will be allocated to highway projects on Highway No. 101 and Highway No. 104. We're doing the preliminary design work and we're doing some of the environmental work related to those projects.
MR. MACKINNON: That would be from New Glasgow down to approximately Bears River?
MR. STONEHOUSE: The project itself is defined as from New Glasgow to Sutherlands River, but the project itself, the funding, is only sufficient enough to cover a portion from New Glasgow to Pine Tree Road.
MR. MACKINNON: And Highway No. 101?
MR. STONEHOUSE: Highway No. 101 essentially takes you from St. Croix to Avonport, exclusive of the causeway.
MR. MACKINNON: That will consume the $61 million?
MR. STONEHOUSE: That's correct. I should mention there are three at-grade intersections on Highway No. 101, down in the Yarmouth area. That's included in that price.
MR. MACKINNON: When does the province expect to conclude those agreements?
MR. STONEHOUSE: The announcement actually puts into effect the moving ahead of those projects. The actual signing of the agreements, we anticipate will happen in early 2005.
MR. MACKINNON: Are there any other agreements contemplated?
MR. STONEHOUSE: There is what we call CSIF 2, an announcement that the federal government made, I believe in February 2003, about some additional funding. We have made representations to the federal government for two additional highway improvement projects.
MR. MACKINNON: And where are they for?
MR. STONEHOUSE: That would be for the funding for the balance of the project from Pine Tree Road to Sutherlands River, as well as looking at what we are going to be doing at the causeway at Falmouth into Windsor.
MR. MACKINNON: And that's it?
MR. STONEHOUSE: That's it.
MR. MACKINNON: I notice that the department has reduced its fleet of equipment from approximately 450 pieces of equipment down to about 400 since 1999. Am I correct in that assessment?
MR. STONEHOUSE: Perhaps I could get Mr. Delaney to respond to that.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Delaney, would you like to respond, please?
MR. DELANEY: The only reduction since 1999 has been primarily about 37 pieces of equipment that are tendered out for Winter snow and ice control. The overall effective fleet is pretty close to the same as it was in 1999. We can give you the exact numbers, if you would like.
MR. MACKINNON: Close is a relative term, big is big and small is small. So what do you define as close?
MR. DELANEY: I'd say the effective numbers are essentially the same as they were in 1999.
MR. MACKINNON: But they're not the same. You're saying essentially the same. I want exactness.
MR. DELANEY: And I've indicated to you that we will get back to you with precise numbers, if that will help.
MR. MACKINNON: But there has been a reduction in your fleet.
MR. DELANEY: Reduction that goes hand in hand with the . . .
MR. MACKINNON: Yes or no would be nice. Is that a yes, or is that a no?
MR. DELANEY: That's a yes, and an explanation as to why.
MR. MACKINNON: That's what I needed to know.
MR. DELANEY: Indeed.
MR. MACKINNON: You've reduced your fleet. You've obviously been privatizing. How many pieces of equipment are being utilized from the private sector this year, how many do you contemplate?
MR. DELANEY: As of now there are 39 pieces of hard equipment that will be working this Winter with the department.
MR. MACKINNON: Am I correct in suggesting that there were approximately 450 pieces of equipment owned by the department in 1999?
MR. DELANEY: Closer to 400.
MR. MACKINNON: So it would be 400 less 39?
MR. DELANEY: Again, I don't have the specifics in terms of numbers. I can certainly get back to you on that.
MR. MACKINNON: It would be reasonable to assume that you're not expanding the fleet, combined public/private. You have approximately the same.
MR. DELANEY: We're not planning to expand the fleet, that's true.
MR. MACKINNON: Is there any plan to further contract, shrink the size of the department's fleet in the upcoming year?
MR. DELANEY: We continue on a yearly basis to review our fleet complement. In cases where indeed it seems to make operational sense to call a tender in cases where calling a tender won't have an impact on long-term employees, where we may have a retirement, for example, maybe a piece of equipment that needs to be replaced and the funding to replace equipment may not be available, then we consider going to the private sector for that option. That's where, in this year, we've gone to the private sector with tenders for 27 pieces of equipment. Roughly half of them were renewals of previous tenders, about 13 new tenders, and we awarded approximately 50 per cent of those tenders.
MR. MACKINNON: Approximately 78 words, but you never answered my question. My question was, is the department contemplating reducing the size of its fleet in the upcoming year? Is there any plan?
MR. DELANEY: We're not contemplating reduction of fleet size as such, Mr. MacKinnon. What we are certainly doing is a review of our entire Winter operation. The review will include the levels of service, the equipment allocation across the province, the ability to respond in comparison for the various areas of the province based on weather and
road mileage. After that review we'll have to determine what the results are, I can't prejudge that.
MR. MACKINNON: I noticed, for example, the Marion Bridge Highway in my constituency and the Main-à-Dieu Highway. The first time ever in its history these main corridors have been put out to tender and the residents are very concerned about the quality of service that they will receive. Not that the private contractors can't do a good job, I have a lot of confidence in them, unlike some socialists who may have presumed positions.
My concern is the fact that if you tender out for the plowing, do they also get the contract for sanding and salting? Is it all one package or is it broken down so that you have two different contractors on one corridor?
MR. DELANEY: I can't speak specifically to Route 327. In general, we have contracted for service from loader plows or graders, and we've also contracted for trucks that provide plowing, salting, sanding capability. I can't speak to the specifics of the Marion Bridge Road.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Delaney, with all due respect, you are giving convoluted answers. I ask point blank - it's important to have symmetry - if you have a contractor go out and do the plowing and then in freezing rain you may need that salt ASAP, and if another contractor doesn't get a call until a little later, or there is some kind of breakdown in communication protocol, what is the department doing to ensure quality control, outside of dealing with it after the fact?
MR. DELANEY: What we do is our specifications are written in such a manner that there are penalties If the contractor does not respond to a call. The contractor is required to - for example, in terms of a plow unit that salts and sands - have the truck available to go on the road within 45 minutes of a call-out, that is the equivalent to what we expect our own operators to respond to when we call them out. We expect them to be at the base within 30 minutes and have the piece of equipment on the road in 45 minutes, giving them time for their pre-trip check. In terms of the standards that are used, it's the same standard as using our own equipment and we expect them to provide the same service. They may not be yellow but they have the same ability to provide snow and ice control to the highway.
MR. MACKINNON: I'm looking here at the department's fact sheet entitled Total Capital Highway and Bridge Projects for the last three years. The figures are based on the final forecast for the year and that's dated August 3, 2004. I notice down in Richmond County, for example, 2002-03 there was $981,200 spent on capital road. In 2003-04 it was $1.15 million - of course, that just happened to be the election year, and I know that's a coincidence. But this year there is only $238,000. So why such a dramatic drop when Richmond County has so many roads? It's like my own constituency, in pretty rough shape.
I'll let the Tory backbenchers plead their case at their caucus but that's not the only case here. For example, in Annapolis, pre-election it was $3.2 million and almost $2 million and after the election it dropped quite significantly to about 50 per cent of that. I guess I would be remiss if I didn't say the word "patronage". Is there any issue of patronage within the department? I probably know the answer you're going to give but I have to ask it.
MR. STONEHOUSE: No, I really can't offer any comment on that, Mr. MacKinnon. What I can tell you, though, is in terms of how we develop our capital plan for the year. That is that on an annual basis we request from our four districts their top 10, 100-Series Highway projects and their top 20, non-100-Series Highway projects. They are submitted to the department, compiled on one complete list, and they are prioritized on a formula basis, weighted based on things like traffic volumes, road conditions, serviceability, and that's how the plan essentially is developed. That plan is recommended to the minister and, of course, as you can imagine, on a daily basis the minister receives - because I read just about all of them - letters from the public and letters from his colleagues in the House about issues of road condition and whatnot. I'm sure he takes those matters into consideration as well. That is sort of generally how the plan is developed. I really can't comment on the patronage issue.
MR. MACKINNON: I have to switch just slightly to the RIM program, because it's essentially designated I think more for the rural part of the province than the urban. I notice in some constituencies here, because it's broken down on a constituency-by-constituency basis - I thought we did away with those three coded coloured books a long time ago - and this is the department's own document, and I've already tabled them in the House, Mr. Chairman, Rural Impact Mitigation fund. I notice ones like Halifax Atlantic which has a considerable amount of rural roads. I drove out there last week and there's one bridge that you have to flip a penny as to whether you're going to drive across it or not before you go. They only received 0.3 per cent of all the RIM money that was put out in the last year.
You are only talking approximately $69,000 for a constituency that has a tremendous number of rural roads. What's your criteria for assessing the allotment of these dollars?
MR. STONEHOUSE: Initially I know that the RIM money is distributed by district, based on the number of kilometres of non-100 Series Highways. The distribution, I think, is pretty much left up to the district in determining where the money gets allocated, whether it's for patching, brush cutting, or for guardrail replacement.
MR. MACKINNON: How many kilometres are in that particular constituency that would come under that umbrella?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Delaney?
MR. DELANEY: First of all, as the deputy indicated, we don't do an allocation by constituency. We have been asked by members after the fact to provide them with information by constituency. Since we do track our items geographically, we're able to provide that. We do the breakdown based on inventory of roads, simply.
You talked before about the capital program. Certainly in terms of all the maintenance programs - including the RIM program - they are done on an inventory basis and they're blind to constituency boundaries as such.
MR. MACKINNON: Let's simplify it, would the department staff be kind enough to supply a list of that inventory to members of the committee, the kilometres of roads that fall in under this particular criteria?
MR. STONEHOUSE: Yes.
MR. MACKINNON: How much time do I have, Mr. Chairman?
MR. CHAIRMAN: About 30 seconds.
MR. MACKINNON: I'll be very magnanimous and pass my time over to the Progressive Conservative caucus since they need some support.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I'll direct your attention now to the PC caucus. Mr. Hines.
MR. GARY HINES: Thank you, Russell, for being so generous.
MR. MACKINNON: It's just eight seconds.
MR. HINES: Eight seconds is a lot sometimes, especially if you're having a heart attack, I guess, would be my comment.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The member for Waverley-Fall River-Beaver Bank gets an extra eight seconds so make good use of it.
MR. HINES: First I am going to make a comment, gentlemen, regarding the establishment of a metro transportation authority. I would like to indicate that the Act placed before the House was an Act to establish a transportation authority. Specifics were under discussion before that date and the specifics would be ongoing.
I know for a fact that the HRM officials were somewhat dismayed that it didn't get passed to allow a more timely process to take place. I do know that packages were sent out to the Opposition Parties regarding some of the intent on the part of HRM, as well as the province, in establishing this. I just wanted to point that out to those who might be viewing,
who saw it as a regressive step to strike that Act down. It was only an Act to implement a transportation authority.
Going forward, I would like to make another comment about something that's already been stated, that this Party is not in favour of toll roads. I would like to suggest that in the last session of the House the statement was made that this government does not support government-owned toll roads, so it does leave the door open a little bit for the Burnside Expressway, as suggested by the corporate people in HRM. I think that discussion will continue, if I can get the opportunity to drive it a little bit because I truly believe it's something we need to do, regardless of who owns the toll road. I believe the private sector has made that offer. So I just want to make sure that's in the record, that it isn't out of the discussion because it isn't.
I would like to move now to one of the concerns that I have as a provincial representative. The mandate of the Transportation Department of the provincial government is not the same as the mandate of HRM. I'm not saying that to be critical of either entity, but the problem I have is responding to an area in Beaver Bank, whereby the province does the snow removal on one end of Beaver Bank and HRM does it on the end of Beaver Bank. I think the big problem that arises is the fact that the two mandates are not similar. They're required to have turnaround within eight hours, and their end gets plowed and serviced much quicker than ours. If we could work it more timely, then I think we would eliminate some of those problems.
I think that Beaver Bank section should be part of the discussion in terms of the transportation authority, to put it under the umbrella of the HRM because HRM is receptive to that discussion. I think you guys are aware of that. Where the problem lies is not necessarily in the fact that the job is not getting done, it's just that it's not timely to come out of HRM's area and go into our area, and seeing the plowing not done four or five hours later. That's the problem that I face.
I think it's important we point out to the citizens, so I'm going to ask you to explain the difference between our salt program as mandated or as put out by the federal government, in terms of environmental, because I do know that HRM provides a lot more salt, and I know that they exceed the limits, in fact they're not environmentally friendly as a city in doing this. I would just like the people out there to know that we are meeting that federal requirement, in terms of salt and so on. Can you give me some specifics on that, Mr. Delaney?
MR. DELANEY: Certainly in response to the federal government initiative in terms of declaring salt on a list to be concerned about, we have responded to that by developing a salt management plan. While we've always been, I believe, or attempted to be good stewards of the environment and not abuse salt but still ensure that salt is used in a manner that provides for safe roads but doesn't overly pollute the environment. I think we've always done that. Our salt management program tries to move us to the next level, and it includes such
activities as building new salt domes, for example, new sand and salt storage facilities so we can have them inside where they won't leach. Typically sand stored outside with salt mixed in will lose up to half the chloride over a year's season. That's really tough on the groundwater in the local area. So building new capacity, certainly in terms of storage, is one of our objectives.
We're also increasing our footprint of RWIS stations around the province, so that by this year we'll have 29 RWIS stations from Yarmouth to Sydney, and hope to move that up to 34, 35 next year. The RWIS stations not only measure weather conditions and road surface conditions, but also allow us to predict better. The information is fed to Environment Canada, which allows them to give better site-specific forecasts, and allows us to predict such things as storm events or even black ice, and allows us to react better to storms.
We're also improving our equipment mix significantly, and that includes computerized salt controls, so that the operator doesn't have to be continuously changing the spread rate based on the speed of the truck, which was our method for years and could be very wasteful. Computerized salt controls certainly give an even distribution, irrespective of the truck speed. We're building new trucks with pre-wetting capability, and we've also rehabilitated some of our older trucks. The pre-wetting capability, again, allows us to do two things. One, it allows us to get out just before the storm or early in the storm so that we get salt on the road as an anti-icing application as opposed to reacting to buildup. You've all seen salt bounce off the roads when you salt on bare pavement, well, spraying it with liquid brine tends to stick it to the road so that you can get out earlier in the storm.
The issue isn't to try to save money, but it saves salt in terms of keeping it on the road, and it should give us a better level of service. Our experience to date has been that pre-wetting, for example, gives us about a 15 per cent reduction in salt use. Now, coupled with this - and I don't want to go through the whole program - obviously, additional training for our supervisors and operators in terms of the effective use of salt, and attempts to hit the right balance between enough salt to ensure safe roads and not an overuse of salt to pollute the groundwater in adjacent wells.
MR. HINES: Because I have a bit of a background in the things that you do, I would have seized the opportunity with the previous questioner, to indicate to him that technology can sometimes reduce the number of operators and the number of individuals you need to operate that equipment. I would just ask you, the fact that we have fewer employees at the DOT, how much of that is affected by new technology and even from the advent of having wings that could be operated by the plow operator, when traditionally we had wingmen and so on. I think you missed an opportunity to indicate that yes, sometimes cuts are necessary for efficiency, and that we're not in an exercise of creating employment, we're in an exercise of spending taxpayers' money to the best advantage. Would I be wrong to suggest that the advent of technology would reduce the need for the number of pieces of iron as well as the number of operators?
MR. DELANEY: Thank you for the question and, certainly, I was responding to a specific question, and your point is well taken. It's not necessarily a recent development, but an evolving one, probably since the mid-1980s, where we've been building trucks, since the mid-1980s, that require one operator as opposed to two. We've been able to do that primarily because of improvements in control systems that allow one operator to operate both the truck, the salt controls - I talked about the computerized salt controls, once set they don't have to be working them further - and the wing. The fact that wings can be constructed to tuck into the truck and can be operated by the much more user-friendly and more responsive controls, that's allowed us to generally move from, for example, tandem trucks that required two operators, on opposite shifts, so you have four operators assigned to the truck for the Winter, and moved it down to half, where there's an operator assigned to each shift.
We've also had some impact on fleet size by moving from the type of situation where we had perhaps a loaderplow or a grader doing the plowing or an FWD doing the plowing, being following by a single-axel truck that didn't have a wing, doing some salting. We've moved away from that to perhaps a tandem truck that plows, wings and salts in one operation. So we've been able to take two pieces of equipment, if you will, and replace them with one unit that, overall, provides probably a higher level of service. So, yes, that has allowed us to make some changes in the equipment.
MR. HINES: I'd like to go back to the process of pre-wetting, just for your comment on it. This is a much more environmentally safe process, is it not? In the past there have been wells that have been damaged by run-off or from salt hitting the hard surfacing, exiting the road surface and into the ditches and so on. Would pre-wetting not be a much more environmentally-friendly process as well?
MR. DELANEY: Certainly anything we can do - and I indicated about a 15 per cent reduction in salt use - to reduce the amount of salt and keeps the salt on the road surface, yes, is more environmentally friendly and less likely to impact adjacent wells and watercourses.
MR. HINES: I don't know whether you're the technical expert or not, but can you explain to us, the RWIS stations that you were talking about, how they actually affect the response times so that we don't have trucks out there on the road when we don't need them out there, and how it would play out in respect to efficiencies as well?
MR. DELANEY: The main impact of the RWIS stations is twofold. One is to provide additional weather stations, if you will, for our forecasting agencies, which has been Environment Canada over the last few years, and this year they've outsourced some of that to a private firm. It gives them additional information outside of the weather stations at the airport and Shearwater so that they can make better predictive models as to when storms will hit various areas. The fact that not only do they do temperature, wind direction, speed, they
also have a puck in the road surface that measures the road surface temperature. Road surface temperature, as you all know, is very important, certainly in terms of predicting black ice. They do predictive models based on weather and road temperature that will predict black ice so that we can respond quicker.
It's also important in terms of our response how much chemical we lay, for example, depending on the temperature; as temperatures drop you tend to need more chemical to have the same effect. So they do help us be more responsive in terms of getting out sooner for the storm. The way we did it years ago - and I've been in this business a long time - was the basemen watched and when it started to snow you called your operators in. There's nothing wrong with that, and to some extent that's always happened and worked pretty effectively. Technology helps us predict with greater accuracy when the storm will hit a certain area, and should allow us to have the operators out in advance of the storm so that they can react much quicker to the storm event.
MR. HINES: So there's a safety factor involved as well. It allows you to respond to black ice conditions, rather than waiting for the snow to come and land on the black ice and create a more dangerous situation?
MR. DELANEY: That's correct. There are some other issues. We also use radar, for example, and items like that that are available as well to help us predict the storms.
MR. HINES: Do you have central monitoring for these systems, or are they monitored by local facilities?
MR. DELANEY: They're monitored by the local facilities.
MR. HINES: An issue that's been brought to my attention just recently has to do with the two major bridges getting into the city, regarding the surfacing. This Summer we resurfaced those bridges. It was indicated to me, and I don't know if you can respond or not, that the problem with this bridge surfacing is that it's a warm weather surfacing material, and that you have a different coefficient of expansion with temperature changes, and that's why you're getting a separation from the surfacing to the actual bridge structure. Have you heard anything?
MR. DELANEY: I think we'd have to defer that to the Bridge Commission.
MR. HINES: When you do that, one of the other concerns that was brought to my attention is the fact that when they're removing the old surfaces, the sandblasting process actually weakens the bridge structure. There's some concern regarding that the bridge structure is being weakened by the wearing away of some of the structural steel in the deck surface itself. I would like you to look into that as well, as well as the warranty regarding that
product. Are they required to warranty that, and for what period of time? I would like to see that, if I could. You may have that number with you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Stonehouse.
MR. STONEHOUSE: Just a clarification, the Department of Transportation and Public Works has no role in the management or the rehabilitation of the bridges. Certainly we can speak to the folks at the Bridge Commission to see if that information is available. We do not have a responsibility for the two bridges.
MR. HINES: That would be good, because you might be bringing something to their attention that they should be aware of. I appreciate that.
The other concern that I have, and I get a number of calls regarding it because I have a highway shed in my area, is the contractual agreement regarding the workers. I know you're not at liberty to respond to negotiations and discussions that are taking place, but I have a concern and they certainly have a concern that they've had no contractual agreement for a long time. In fact, they may be in a position where they would be negotiating last term's and this term's at the same time. Can you tell me what the roadblocks would be, that that's not getting dealt with and settled?
MR. STONEHOUSE: We would agree that a contract settlement is long overdue. It's been approximately two years. We did put an offer on the table about a year ago, I believe, or maybe less so. The union executive did not take it to a vote, to its membership. They did appeal to the highway workers board on a couple of issues around interpretation and what was arbitrable. The province disagreed with the decision of the board, and has since appealed it to the Supreme Court. I would say that we would certainly be anxious to sit down, if there's an opportunity at any time to sit down, to see if we can work to an agreement. There have been some preliminary discussions about sitting down at the table to see what the art of the possible is here.
MR. HINES: An area that I want to move to is an area of thanks. I made one major promise in my election campaign, because I don't believe in promising something I can't deliver. You've delivered that to me, the signalization and repaving of the intersection at Fall River. I thank you for that. We've had some criticism already this morning regarding whether there is colour involved, in terms of allocation of specific contracts, in particular RIM programs, I believe were suggested. Can you tell me what the process is in determining what projects should go forward and what should not go forward, because it's my understanding that it's done by the department engineers in co-operation and communication with other department members? If I could suggest it, I would like to see more politics played in the allocation of contracts. (Laughter)
MR. STONEHOUSE: I think, as I indicated earlier on, there is a process that we have in place in terms of looking at capital projects that is objective based, in terms of how we go about establishing priorities. They tend to be based around issues of traffic volumes, they are based on issues of serviceability, based on condition, based on safety. Those are the factors that we use in order to determine what priorities are. As I say, those are recommendations that we do make, and they're based on those factors.
MR. HINES: Mr. Chairman, I will be more gracious than the honourable member opposite and I'll pass my minute on to the next round.
MR. CHAIRMAN: We'll begin the next round, 14-minute intervals, so that we can allow a few minutes at the end for closing comments. Once again we'll start with the NDP.
The honourable member for Pictou West.
MR. PARKER: Mr. Chairman, I'm going to be sharing some of my time with my colleague, but I have a couple of questions. First of all, when I left off I was talking about our capital budget, and I would certainly like to come back to that, if I could. The budget allocated for capital replacement is around $6 million. Mr. Delaney, I think you indicated that really we need about $10.5 million to bring it up to snuff, to have enough to replace the equipment that needed. In the interim, certainly the private sector is getting some of that work through RIM work or through other tenders and maybe is taking up that slack. It's obvious we don't have enough to maintain our own department's equipment.
I know in some cases when tenders are put out, some of them are accepted and some of them are too high so they're not accepted. For example, if a tender is $150 an hour and it's deemed to be too high, then you have to go back to your own resources within the department to see if you can do the work. But where there is deferred capital equipment replacement, perhaps you don't always have the equipment there to do the work. I know one specific example that has come to my attention was out at Miller Lake.
Apparently there was a tender out for salt maintenance on the highways and the tender must have been too high so they went back to look at their own equipment. I guess there are five salt trucks out there that are trying to be pressed into service, I guess, from the spare parts pile or whatever, but a lot of them were in pretty poor shape and the mechanics there were trying to get them back into service. I think so far they found enough parts and equipment for four of them and they're hoping to get a fifth one going and that's great, as long as they work, as long as they do the job.
With older equipment it's are going to break down more often than new equipment so if that happens, then I guess you are again back in the situation where a private contractor would have to come in and do the work. Perhaps then they are in a better position, because knowing that you don't have the equipment to do it, they might want even more money for
the job. Anyway, I'd just like to get your comments on that. When tenders are not accepted because they are too high, do you have the equipment to go back in with your own department's resources to do the job? Are you working with old or out-of-date equipment to try to make it work?
MR. DELANEY: Yes, we do, to answer your question and indeed, our private sector complement is virtually the same as last year, maybe in different places in terms of where it's working and we may have to move another piece of equipment around the province to a different location to fill the gap.
In terms of our overall equipment readiness and what have you, I've been around the department long enough to recall times when our equipment was indeed extremely old and we were running, consistently, 18- to 22-year-old trucks. That wasn't easy and if you ask me would I prefer to have $10 million to spend on equipment, sure, that's an easy question to answer, I would prefer to.
The way that we're moving forward in terms of contracting out some of that balance, we talked about 39 pieces of equipment now working from the private sector. Without doing the math, it's somewhere in the range of $10 million to replace that with new equipment. With limited budgets, that's just difficult to do. Where we are being careful in our contracting out is that there really is no intention to move completely to the private sector. We think our staff and our equipment do a commendable job of providing snow and ice control and we expect that they will for a long period of time. What we're doing is talking about picking up some of the edges where equipment, if we purchase it now, is equipment that to a large extent will be sitting in the Summer. It's just simply more cost effective in some cases to go to the private sector and get that, so that's why we are on this direction.
MR. PARKER: Perhaps I could ask the deputy minister, I've been talking quite a bit this morning about private contracts, contracting out, privatization and there is evidence that, in some cases, it's not working, it's costing the department more money. It seems there is a trend towards more and more privatization. I would just like to know from yourself, sir, what is the vision of the department as far as privatization? I know the Winter maintenance now is at least 10 per cent contracted out and I believe the Summer maintenance is something like 28 per cent contracted out. What does the future hold for privatization in this province?
MR. STONEHOUSE: I think we prefer not to talk about it in terms of private and public, what we like to talk about is in terms of what's the most cost-effective way to get the work done. We believe the best way we can do that is through a balanced or a blended workforce that provides, I think, the best opportunity to provide that kind of cost-effective,
quality service to the public. There is no long-term vision with respect to whether we're going to move totally private, or go back to being totally public. I think the question is what is the best way? How can we introduce some flexibility in the manner we do our work that
allows us to get the work done in the most cost effective way? That's really, essentially, the vision.
MR. PARKER: Are there any targets as far as percentage of work above 10 per cent or above 28 per cent?
MR. STONEHOUSE: There are certainly no targets established, no.
MR. PARKER: I have one final question I would like to ask, it's concerning staffing. I know it has been indicated that there's not going to be any layoffs or any cutbacks to the permanent staff but I want to give you a quote. In October, your spokesperson, Dan Davis, had indicated that when people are retiring or moving to different areas then we will look at bringing in private contractors to do the work.
I know you have an aging workforce over the next five or six years, I think there are going to be quite a large number of people retiring within the department. I would just like to know what is the succession plan for long-term employees within the department?
MR. STONEHOUSE: I think that's an issue that not only is one we deal with at the Department of Transportation and Works, but I think it's an issue that just about every department and every entity deals with. Just on the point of some of the issues we have, for example, in the last four years we have had over 200 new hires in the CUPE workforce. I can tell you that in the last four years the total work hours performed by CUPE went from 2.2 million up to 2.7 million. So in my mind that's an indication that we're trying to maintain a balanced workforce and we're not moving essentially one way or the other. If anything, as I say, we do have over 200 new hires.
Now granted, there have been retirements and there have been people who have left the workforce but I think, as an indication, that when people retire we will bring them on when it's cost effective to bring them on. When people retire, that's just one component of it. If we do tender to the private sector it has to be cost effective. We'll make a determination whether or not that work can be done in house and if that work can be done more cost effectively in house, we'll engage the folks to do that.
MR. PARKER: I thank you for your answers and I'm now going to turn it over to my colleague.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The member for Halifax Chebucto.
MR. HOWARD EPSTEIN: Mr. Stonehouse, I noticed that in your introductory remarks you made reference to the fact that it may be that this will be a particularly bad year
in terms of fatalities on the roads. I have had occasion recently to look at some statistics with respect to this. It seems to me that in Nova Scotia every year we have a range of about 80 to 100 deaths on the roads associated with accidents. Is that the number that you're looking at this year or are you looking at a higher number? Can you tell us?
MR. STONEHOUSE: I can tell you in the year to date, the total fatalities, I think, is 86 and in the year to date, 1999, we had 87 and that was our worst year in the last five years. Last year was our lowest - I'm not going to characterize it as being better because it's a terrible statistic to talk about . . .
MR. EPSTEIN: In fact, I'm very glad you brought it up because it seems to me that it's an important statistic that people keep in mind. When I was looking at road deaths I was also looking at numbers of murders, for example. In Nova Scotia, we generally have seven, eight, nine murders a year, again, compared with 80 to 90 road deaths a year. Workplace accidents are usually about a dozen, or 13 or 14 and again, although that is serious and in the order of 50 per cent or 100 per cent higher than murders, road deaths are in the order of two a week. This is something that we really have to pay attention to so, thank you for mentioning that.
MR. STONEHOUSE: I couldn't agree with you more. We're a long way from where we were in the mid-1970s where we had 277 fatalities on our roads, but 86, in my view, is an obscene number.
MR. EPSTEIN: I'm glad you've highlighted it but it actually gets me to a particular point I wanted to raise with your colleague, Mr. Hessian, if I may. I'm interested to hear, sir, that you're the provincial traffic authority. I don't think I had been aware of who the actual incumbent was before so I'm interested to have a chat with you.
I would like to bring some of my experience dealing with the HRM traffic authority to your attention. I'm going to tell you a short story because at the end of it I want to ask you a couple of questions, it is relevant.
I used to be a member of the City of Halifax Municipal Council and then of the HRM Council, so my direct experience is in the period of 1994-98. At the same time, my experience is not out of date because I still represent what is essentially the same geographic area, and I assure you that I hear from people who live in my area about municipal issues just as regularly as I do about provincial issues. So here's what happened.
The people in neighbourhoods that are largely residential neighbourhoods would experience problems with traffic shortcutting or other kinds of intrusions and what they saw as high rates of traffic coming through their area. When issues were brought to the attention of the traffic authority who was the designated traffic authority at the municipality, he would point to a guidebook that he used as his standard. The standards were established through
national conferences. I remember I borrowed his book once and had a read at it. It dealt with different kinds of circumstances, for example, when four-way stops should be put in. The standards were tied to numbers of vehicles per day, they were tied to numbers of reported accidents, including fatalities.
I have to say, first, that tying preventive measures to a standard that includes fatalities seems to me to be a scandal. My first point I want to make to you is I would request that if you are a party to the discussions amongst traffic engineers around Canada who think about the input to this book, I would very seriously ask you to rethink whether fatalities ought to be part of a standard for putting in place preventive measures. What I hear from people in the neighbourhoods is what can we do to prevent something that they see as an easily and to be anticipated problem coming up.
The second thing is that as I read that book, it said at the beginning in the introduction that all of the standards are guidelines. All of the standards are meant to be guidelines not absolute rules. I'm wondering if that's still the case, and I'm wondering if it's feasible or whether you would entertain re-emphasizing to the traffic authorities who are in place around this province the guidelines aspect of this, because I have to tell you that was not my experience in dealing with the HRM traffic authority. They pointed to the detailed rules in the book, and referred to them as if they were absolute rules. To get some flexibility in place was extremely difficult. I'm asking you about those two points.
MR. RALPH HESSIAN: Mr. Chairman, just to put in perspective, the traffic authorities for each municipal unit are appointed by the council of that municipal unit.
MR. EPSTEIN: It had gotten to the point where I had to threaten to have ours fired before we got any action. That got his attention.
MR. HESSIAN: And they report to the council. Although I am the provincial traffic authority, there is no reporting structure back to the provincial traffic authority. I represent the interests of the province on highways under ownership of the province, and the municipal traffic authority represents the interests of the municipality on roads under the ownership of the municipality.
With regard to your question on standards or guidelines, certainly the documents that are created on a national level are indeed guidelines and they're available to any practising traffic professional, whether they're here in Nova Scotia or in B.C. or whatever, as a collective judgment by the practitioners who work in that particular area as to what constitutes some evidence that individuals could use to make decisions in their own local municipality. They are not prescribed in stone, they are up to the judgment of an individual traffic authority to adopt the types of guidelines that he wants to use to make his judgments on where he puts crosswalks, where he puts stop signs, where he puts traffic signals. For example, there is a traffic signal warrant in the manual of uniform traffic control devices, and
it suggests that a need may be demonstrated for a traffic signal when you have 100 points. It's a formula.
MR. CHAIRMAN: We're going to have to call it in there. We'll move now to the Liberal caucus.
The honourable member for Halifax Clayton Park.
MS. DIANA WHALEN: Welcome today. There's a number of issues I'd like to touch on today, relating more to the urban side of things and perhaps more with Mr. Hessian and the traffic authority rules. I'd like to ask about this committee you have for road safety. Is it an advisory committee? You mentioned it in your opening remarks. I would like to know how the municipalities interact with that, what their role is and what issues you're discussing?
MR. HESSIAN: Yes, it is an advisory committee. It's called the Road Safety Advisory Committee. It was an effort to bring together all the various stakeholders that either have an interest or a contribution to make to the delivery of road safety in the province. It's obviously a shared responsibility. There's road issues, there's enforcement issues, there's driver issues and education issues. With regard to the municipalities, currently the Nova Scotia Police Chiefs Association is represented on the committee, along with a number of municipal officials on subcommittees. For instance, we have a pedestrian, cycling and motorcycling subcommittee, and there are members from HRM who are present on that, and CBRM and officials from other municipalities. On the main committee it's primarily the Police Chiefs Association.
MS. WHALEN: What about the main issues that you're looking at right now? I want to refer to one in particular, and you may be able to identify others that are current. From my years on city council, as well, we had passed a motion wanting to have control of speed limits resting in the hands of the municipality rather than resting in the hands of the province. That was a motion not only from HRM Council but also from the UNSM, because it went forward that all municipalities said, yes, we'd like that control. I think it is most acute in the more urban areas. I have to say that the riding of Halifax Clayton Park traffic would be one of our very top issues. It is a major concern to people living there, because of the speed, perhaps the danger of some of the traffic and so on. We wanted to do a pilot project on speed control in that area. I wonder if you could just tell me, what is going on with that motion from the UNSM and the control of speed limits?
MR. HESSIAN: With regard to the Road Safety Advisory Committee, that's not a topic that's currently on their agenda, however, we did complete a technical study in partnership with Halifax Regional Municipality with regard to the merits and demonstrated benefits of speed limits lower than 50 kilometres per hour. I believe that's probably the area of interest that you have. We did do a pilot as part of that project, with 40 kilometre per hour
speed limits being approved by the minister for four streets in the Clayton Park/Rockingham area. Speed samples were taken by HRM while those speed limits were in place.
The technical study came back, the representatives from both the municipality and the province accepted the technical results that indicated there were no measurable benefits for speed limits less than 50 kilometres per hour. The speed studies that were done by Halifax Regional Municipality did not indicate any reduction in speed measured, between the 50 kilometres per hour and the 40 kilometres per hour. Therefore, the decision was that there is no demonstrated benefit.
MS. WHALEN: I wonder if I could probe that a little bit more, and ask you a few questions on that? My understanding was that when the speed limits were posted, HRM was instructed to make no special efforts whatsoever to treat that street differently than others. For example, no special education highlighting the difference on those streets as opposed to others, no stronger enforcement or police presence that would alert drivers to the fact that this was really the only area, the only four streets in the entire province that would have an actual enforceable lower speed limit. Is that true, that we were told hands off, just change the signs and don't do anything else?
MR. HESSIAN: I'm not aware of that particular instruction. I was not part of the project team myself.
MS. WHALEN: Could I ask who would have orchestrated that project?
MR. HESSIAN: It was a shared staff project. The exact numbers, I believe, are Bernie Clancey from our department, Doug Bain from our department, there were a couple of traffic engineers from HRM . . .
MS. WHALEN: I think it's quite pertinent to the fact that I understood it was the province that set those boundaries. Initially the city posted four or five signs going down the street, wherever a new street intersected. For example on Flamingo Drive or on Bayview Road, they would put another sign, so that as you entered the street you would say oh, I'm in a 40-kilometre zone. They were told not to do that, that that was over-signed, and they had to remove signs and actually go down the street and just put one at the top and one at the bottom on both of those streets and the two feeder streets.
MR. HESSIAN: What I would comment on, with regard to the signing aspect, is there were two issues. One, there was a request to add other features to the street, such as add four-way stops at the same time you were adding the change in speed limits. We felt that it was not appropriate because you weren't measuring apples and apples when you're looking at the traffic flow along the street. Second of all, we just asked that they use the same signing practices for the 40 kilometre per hour signed street as you would for the 50 kilometre per
hour street, just, once again, to have a common baseline of which to measure the impact of the change in the speed limit.
MS. WHALEN: As a bit of background, I would like to say that there are numerous streets in HRM where the councillors representing those areas would like to see speed control as a means to slow down the streets and make them more liveable for the people who are in those communities and safer, ultimately safer. This is a demand that's pent up on HRM Council. The test that was done on Bayview and Flamingo Drive and Meadowlark and Gateway were intended, really, to see whether this would have an impact. I think by rolling it out in a way that said we won't over-sign it, we won't enforce it more than normal and so on really set it up for failure.
It didn't give it a chance to show that if you brought in all your resources, including education and public relations, that you could make a difference in how people drove. Many other provinces do allow their municipalities to set lower speed limits, particularly in residential areas and on residential streets. That's where it's really used. I've seen it in so many other locations, in Ontario, even in Newfoundland, Alberta has much different speed control that they use, and I just can't see why we set a pilot project in place here doomed to failure. I wonder if you could just, perhaps, give me some hope that we can do this again and do it differently?
MR. HESSIAN: It wasn't our intent to do a pilot that was doomed to failure. Our attempt was to do a pilot that would equitably judge the merits of the previous speed limit with the merits of the new. As part of the exercise of the technical study, there was a survey of all the other jurisdictions to learn, did they have any evaluation results of any of the lower speed zones they have in place, to measure their effectiveness, did they reduce speed, did they improve safety, et cetera. The judgment of the independent consultants and the HRM and the TPW team was that there wasn't any evidence to suggest there were measurable benefits. As far as going on, we're certainly willing to explore any type of issue that is proven or estimated to have some merit for the benefits of the residential areas or the rural areas of the province.
MS. WHALEN: In this feedback, as well, from the community they felt that without enforcement, without a visible presence and an attempt to - because that's part of education - without that, you are not going to have any change in driver behaviour, because people are in habits that allow them to go a certain speed, and they won't recognize the difference if you haven't made some real effort to draw their attention to it. It was a very new thing for this province to try, and I think that by not allowing us to really focus on it and draw attention to it, it really couldn't succeed. You mentioned there are police officers that sit on your road advisory group, I would think that they would be the first to say that you need to have that.
I would like to move to another area, and this is still speed limits; playground and school zones. In the Province of Alberta, and I believe in other places, they have an enforceable lower speed limit around schools and playgrounds. In fact in Alberta, or at least
in the City of Calgary it's 30 kilometres per hour in those zones. It's very well enforced, I will say. There is a different driving culture in those cities. I'm wondering if we have reviewed that at all, for safety around schools and playground zones?
MR. HESSIAN: In the past we have done some review of other jurisdictional practices and looked at our own particular law in Nova Scotia. Our law in Nova Scotia is broader than it is in a number of other jurisdictions in the sense that we post school zone speed limits, which is 50 kilometres per hour in Nova Scotia, on all public roads where there happens to be a school adjacent to the highways. In certain other provinces, they only post school zones in residential areas. We're looking at a 50 zone, and if the school is in an 80 or 90 zone, motorist speeds come down to 50.
MS. WHALEN: That's the only time though, only when the posted speed limit is above 50.
MR. HESSIAN: That's correct.
MS. WHALEN: I'm thinking of so many of the other schools that might benefit by having it be lower, just to increase caution there.
MR. HESSIAN: We're certainly prepared to look at Nova Scotia's law to determine whether there's a better law that could be more effective for the province.
MS. WHALEN: Is it one of the issues that you're looking at on the road safety committee?
MR. HESSIAN: It is not.
MS. WHALEN: On the issue of the 50 kilometre, just in regular residential speed limits, I'd like to know if you could table with this committee any of the findings of that group. I would like to see something in writing on what was done and how it was done. Again, I know your outcome was indicating negative, but I'd like to see the recommendations that came from that.
MR. HESSIAN: Certainly.
MS. WHALEN: Just before I leave that, I'd like to ask you about the interchange at Bayers Lake and Lacewood. Some very good work was done to improve the traffic flow from the ramps off the 100-Series Highway, which of course is what we're concerned about, but also for the city traffic moving in and out of Bayers Lake, and that was very good. But, my concern in that intersection is the condition or the unsightliness of the interchange itself. I'm thinking of the four corners as the ramps come down. When that interchange was built, it was really thrown up and just quickly done, and this would be about 10 years ago. No landscaping
was done whatsoever on that interchange. I have a lot of people living in the area who ask me when or what will be done. It is very unsightly and it's often been referred to as a moonscape, it's just rocks and litter, basically.
I wondered about the standards that we might have for roadside remediation, as you go through building both your highways and so on. When I look at the places that have been twinned, they're looking very nice, and I'm wondering why, in the city, that interchange looks as it does. I'm not sure which of the visitors today would like to take that question.
MR. DELANEY: Certainly, I can answer the question. The department doesn't tend to do a lot of landscaping around interchanges. I think we would plead guilty to that issue. We've tended to spend our money perhaps on building interchanges and expanding the system or maintaining them. Interchange beautification through plantings and what have you, we simply, by policy, haven't done a lot of that in the past. We have had some areas of the province where the municipal unit, for their own reasons, or a local group have indicated an interest in doing some landscaping. An example of that would be along Highway No. 111 and Burnside Drive in Dartmouth, where the previous city, and it's still maintained by HRM, did some landscaping and upgrades. Certainly, we would consider the same type of issue with the interchange at Lacewood, should HRM wish to pursue that.
MS. WHALEN: Could I signal an interest in that intersection, and ask that, perhaps, you could tell me if there is any possibility of getting that into a work plan, and ask that maybe you reply to this committee, since this is a committee?
MR. DELANEY: We can certainly pass that on to HRM, and have some discussions with the municipality about the art of the possible in that regard.
MS. WHALEN: I would like to give the last few seconds to my colleague.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. MacKinnon.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, just quickly, with regard to the locating of driveways on new building lots, I understand the department is moving towards, and perhaps it already has, contracting out to the private sector. I know I received a memo as a member of the Nova Scotia Land Surveyors Association to that effect, that the department was contemplating that. Two issues, one, is that a reality, and if so, how much does the department contemplate saving by doing that?
MR. CHAIRMAN: A 20-second answer, Mr. Delaney.
MR. DELANEY: Driveway placement is largely done, in terms of new placement, has been done for years by the private sector or the owner. The location, in terms of getting the lot approved, is probably what you're referring to.
MR. MACKINNON: Yes.
MR. DELANEY: I'm not completely convergent with our current practice. I think it's a combination of both. The land surveyors, in some instances . . .
MR. MACKINNON: I can take that on notice for the benefit of the committee, if you could give us some detail on that.
MR. DELANEY: I will do it.
MR. CHAIRMAN: We'll turn to the PC caucus for the final 14 minutes.
The honourable member for Chester-St. Margaret's.
MR. JOHN CHATAWAY: Mr. Chairman, I very much appreciate, as we all do, the various departments coming. I certainly don't have to lecture any of our guests about how important the Department of Transportation and Public Works is to all Nova Scotians, especially people who live in all parts of Nova Scotia. One of the main reasons that we became successful when we formed government in 1999 was because the people were convinced that the Party I am honoured to be a member of had made not just promises but actually made some improvement to the roads.
To that end, over the last five years of the present government, what has happened in capital funding for roads in Nova Scotia? I think you certainly - maybe I'm naive - I think many Nova Scotians very much appreciate what has happened, if you could just highlight some of the main points in the last five years.
MR. STONEHOUSE: Thank you for the question. Over the last five years, just on the capital side, the annual capital budget has increased by approximately $69 million which represents about a 250 per cent increase over that period of time in capital spending.
MR. CHATAWAY: The money thing I think I heard in the House, that in 1999 we had adopted a budget, of course, that had been passed by the previous government. It was $38 million for capital additions and last year's was something like $112.8 million, that's about in those figures, is it not? This is capital funding for road improvements or new roads.
MR. STONEHOUSE: Well, if you look at our total capital funding for total highways, which would include the capital investment in roads, bridges, ferries and land acquisition, plus machinery acquisition for road construction purposes, road maintenance purposes, we went from approximately $44 million in 2000-01 to approximately $112 million in 2004-05.
MR. CHATAWAY: I think we all appreciate that too. If you could give me some more information, too. How much is paid by Nova Scotians each year to the federal motive fuel taxes?
MR. STONEHOUSE: It's estimated that the federal tax from Nova Scotia is approximately $140 million.
MR. CHATAWAY: So Nova Scotians are paying and it goes to Ottawa. How much does Ottawa give back to us for road improvements and highway improvements?
MR. STONEHOUSE: Well, that varies from year to year, depending on sort of cash flows of projects that we have underway but over the last I think five years, on average about $5 million to $6 million a year is the money that we would get back from the federal government.
MR. CHATAWAY: We should repeat this. Nova Scotians are paying $140 million and the generous Ottawa government gives us $5 million or $6 million. How very generous it is, ho, ho, ho. My oh my oh my. Comparing our case to other provinces, does Ottawa take about $140 million? What is done with other provinces? How is it done in other provinces?
MR. STONEHOUSE: I don't think we are a great deal different from many other provinces in general. I think the total motive fuel tax is approximately $5.5 billion a year that the federal government taxes motive fuel. I don't think that the other jurisdictions would probably be any different than where we are.
MR. CHATAWAY: I thought I had heard, say New Brunswick, they got $100 million, something like this, and we got $5 million or $6 million and New Brunswick gets what, $100 million? If you could give me some information in that regard, I would certainly like to . . .
MR. STONEHOUSE: Certainly we can take it under advisement and provide you with some information.
MR. CHATAWAY: Please. I think we would all like to know, just to see how we are different.
Changing the subject somewhat, of course I think all people who have the honour of representing sort of a rural or suburban, not necessarily an urban riding, know that brush is certainly, we are very healthy along our roads and things like this because the brush has certainly been sort of healthy and all that good stuff but many people feel that as you drive along the road the brush should be there protecting deer within two feet of the road.
I understand that the RIM money deals with this regard and some of the figures I have are not exactly accurate. Could you tell me the details of RIM money, how much is spent on it now, what are the main projects they're doing, and is it going to be increased in the next year or so, road improvement money?
MR. STONEHOUSE: I think we do have a breakdown of generally where the RIM money is allocated but that program was started a couple of years ago, it started out as $12 million and there has been a commitment that it would double to $20 million over a four-year period. This current fiscal year we are in a period where an additional $2.5 million was added to the RIM program so the current program is $12.5 million.
Basically, the money is distributed by district based on the amount of non-100-Series Highways that are contained within the boundaries of the district. Out of that $12.5 million, approximately $5 million goes to pave and patching; $1.9 million goes to gravel patching; $1.25 million goes to shoulder gravel; $625,000 to brush cutting; $1.8 million approximately for ditching; $600,000 approximately for guardrails; and then there's a contingency that is built in around $1.2 million. That is generally how the money is distributed for that type of work.
MR. CHATAWAY: I'm sure you have many requests from many parts of Nova Scotia that you should have more in this regard - not only from the 100-Series Highways but just from some of the weather we've had and in fact, I think the Department of Transportation and Public Works must go out with a chainsaw to get some of the brush that has fallen over the road to get them cut back because otherwise the traffic can't get around it, I think many people are concerned about that. The other thing is safety, if you see something then you can slow down but if you don't see it, all of a sudden it is right in front of you and is very difficult to deal with.
The other thing is, can you inform us about the authority? The authority is going to be the Department of Transportation and Public Works sitting down with the HRM and coming up with the authority. I think the idea is a very sound idea because inevitably, some say this is our priority and the other group says this is our priority and guess what happens? Nothing happens, and I've heard that expressed by various people whom I have the honour of representing. They say, now they've talked and talked so let's do something. If you could just elaborate again, Mr. Stonehouse, what is going to happen in the next while for the proverbial traffic authority for the HRM and the Department of Transportation and Public Works?
MR. STONEHOUSE: Just by way of a bit of history, the concept of a traffic authority was presented to the department and province by the HRM last Fall. We think it's an excellent concept and I think that concept came out of their regional planning process where,
I think, they recognized there are different stakeholders and players in the transportation business, certainly in the urban area. I think bringing those stakeholders and participants who have a focus on developing a strategic transportation plan for the HRM is an excellent idea.
We fully support the concept and as I said earlier, at this point in time we are developing the legislative framework that will describe the mandate and the structure of that organization. We will be sitting down with the HRM to work through those details. We are optimistic that we will have an agreement, that seems to be an initiative that enjoys the support of many and I think it is needed. It provides a vehicle and an avenue for the province and the HRM and other stakeholders in terms of coordinating transportation issues within the HRM.
MR. CHATAWAY: You certainly should be complimented for that optimism, guarded optimism, because more and more people are coming to HRM and, inevitably, many have to get around. They would rather have a transportation system that would move them - it might be ferries and all that stuff - but people should be concentrating on that. I think we all appreciate that. We may not always agree, necessarily, but if we put it off 10 years to make that same decision, we'll have fewer decisions and it will be far more controversial than it is now. You certainly should be complimented in that regard.
MR. STONEHOUSE: As I say, I think it was recognized that there are multiple players in transportation issues in HRM; the province, HRM themselves, transit, ferries, the bridges. There was probably a recognized need that there was better coordination needed among those players.
MR. CHATAWAY: It's certainly interesting about the trucks, how many we have or do not have. I think it's very good, you said several times this morning, that whatever we do in the Department of Transportation and Public Works is cost effective. It's very important. The job has to be done, everybody wants that, but it is not necessarily done by a full-time employee of the Department of Transportation and Public Works. Many people in areas we all represent have people that are skilled and can do that, but not as full-time employees. So it's very good to encourage them to come in, give you one day of the proverbial week to do something for the Department of Transportation and Public Works, rather than having the truck sitting there for one day's work and for four other days just sitting there doing nothing.
I'm sure the Department of Transportation and Public Works is not going to buy a bunch of equipment to be competitive against the private people who are in business. Keep up the good work. I think the facts I have here are that we're not laying people off or anything like that, it's just being very cost effective.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. Chataway, for those closing comments.
Mr. Stonehouse, would you or any of your staff like to make a few comments? We'll provide that time for you now.
MR. STONEHOUSE: Very briefly, Mr. Chairman, as I said, we thank the committee for the opportunity to come to speak with you today on matters of transportation. We hope we've answered most of your questions, and those that we need to provide further information on, we'll certainly provide that as quickly as we can. Again, thank you for the opportunity to come to talk about roads. It's an important issue for lots of people in this province.
MR. CHAIRMAN: It is indeed for many of us rural members. I want to thank the committee members. I think it's only appropriate to thank you for your indulgence over the past two hours. I want to thank you, Mr. Stonehouse and your staff, for providing us the expertise you have today. I know we're breaking a few minutes early, but it gives you an opportunity to get back to your respective offices so as to better concentrate on how best to repair the washout on Pictou East Woodburn Road in an expedient manner, so we can all enjoy using that piece of highway again. On that note, again I thank you. We won't hold you up any further.
The meeting is adjourned.
[The committee adjourned at 10:54 a.m.]