The highly anticipated findings of a review on asphalt quality issues in Ontario were unveiled by experts recently during the Ontario Road Builders’ Association’s (ORBA) 91st annual convention in Toronto, providing a roadmap for significant improvements.
In November 2016, Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk issued a damning report pointing out a litany of problems with roadway procurement including that the pavement on some major Ontario highways had cracked prematurely, with the province paying millions to fix it.
ORBA retained experts David Newcomb, from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, and Augusto Patmore, from KPMG’s infrastructure, engineering and construction practice, in 2017 to conduct an independent examination of asphalt quality and “to provide insight and guidance to the industry,” said David Caplan, ORBA chief operating officer as he introduced the speakers at the convention.
“Today is not the final word, it’s an update. This is going to be an ongoing conversation as we roll out towards a final version and report,” he said.
“Following this work we will ensue with our Quality of Asphalt taskforce with the OAPC (Ontario Asphalt Pavement Council) executive and the ORBA executive along with some other members. We very much encourage members who have comments to get those in as we move forward. Our goal is to ensure that we roll this out and we get it right.”
To date, reviewers have consulted with more than 15 municipalities, four regions, the 407 ETR, contractors, asphalt producers and asphalt binder producers.
“The mandate was to work with stakeholders across the province to identify strategic actions and priorities with the asphalt industry as a whole,” explained Patmore.
“We have been informing research on the root cause of poor asphalt quality in the province and premature cracking.”
KPMG performed jurisdictional research looking at Indiana, Michigan, the U.K. and Australia to compare levels of spending, the percentage of highway distress and the overall condition of the roads.
“Only 14 per cent of our roads can be deemed to be in poor condition, which means exhibiting cracking and signs of distress and potentially needing repairs,” said Patmore, adding Indiana has 17 per cent, Michigan 19 per cent, the U.K. has 17 per cent and Australia sits at 20 per cent.
“By and large Ontario is not alone in experiencing these issues. With the leadership of the MTO (Ministry of Transportation), ORBA members and the industry as a whole, I think we’re well positioned to address the issues.”
He presented nine main findings from the examination based on the input received from stakeholders.
“Most owners are not happy with the situation. They’re all experiencing premature cracking on roads that should last 15 to 20 years,” Patmore explained.
“The majority of owners attributed the industry’s quality issues to the decline in the quality of asphalt cement and hot mix asphalt production.”
One of the key concerns was that the lowest compliant bid procurement model doesn’t promote quality.
“Most municipalities lack a rigorous prequalification process,” Patmore explained. “This model has driven contractors to find ways to be more cost effective…with additives like REOB (re-refined engine oil bottom) and roofing shingles being overused.
The use of these additives is not a bad thing in itself, but the overuse of these additives can be detrimental to the quality of the asphalt.”
From the findings, a roadmap of considerations for improvement was formed. They are recommendations at this point and have not been finalized.
Increasing asphalt cement content in mixtures must be a high priority in improving pavement performance, Patmore advised, as asphalt cement is the binder or the glue. Overuse of additives needs to be avoided.
“It’s critical that there is more collaboration in the industry to drive consistency, a uniform approach. We believe it would be useful to create a leadership steering committee that involves members of ORBA, the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario, the Ontario Good Roads Association and the Municipal
Engineers Association to further advance technical research and increase consistency in specifications across the province,” Patmore noted.
Furthermore, municipalities need to strengthen contract oversight and enforcement levels across Ontario and owners need to improve quantification of asphalt quality issues in their road networks through a more complete asset management database.
One recommendation suggested ORBA and the MTO enter into a partnering agreement to increase the focus on technical training, develop case studies and, if necessary, agree to modify specifications based on lessons learned.
The roadmap also suggests the development of a Contract Performance Dashboard to track poor quality contracts.
Municipal owners should adopt a more rigorous prequalification process that factors in quality and past performance history, the roadmap indicates.
In addition, it recommends owners consider shifting from pure low bid procurement to models that factor in lifecycle costs, performance history and technical scores of the bidders.
ORBA needs to reinforce its code of conduct and ensure that any members found guilty of illegal actions face “significant consequences,” Patmore noted.
“They need to ensure unethical and illegal behaviour that has been disclosed by some audit reports in the last few years…cannot be repeated, cannot be tolerated by the industry,” said Patmore. “This makes the whole industry look bad and is a situation that needs attention.”