‘Like a free for all for drivers’

Answers to where the city’s road paint went, and where it’s headed this year

Whether she’s driving the streets of St. John’s or Mount Pearl, Becky Walsh worries for lack of road paint.

“It’s like a free for all for drivers,” she says, “and you just hope the next person has a good memory of where they’re supposed to be. It seems every year, by March, traffic lines on major roads in this city, even parking spaces, are non-existent.”

This year’s budget for road paint has been hiked to nearly $1 million ($988, 946), according to Jim Clarke, Acting Director of Public Works and Parks with the City of St. John’s. It’s an increase of $150 thousand from last year, with an upgrade of $214 thousand on paint alone.

“Over the past three to five years we tried a number of steps, some with no or limited success,” —Jim Clarke

The budget jump is due in part to the city investing in favour of more durable, thermoplastic — considered a superior paint with increased durability, retro-reflectivity, and a lack of volatile organic compound (VOC) solvents.

“This year council has given extra money so they can put down the thermoplastic arrows and such in high traffic areas like the Prince Phillip Parkway,” says Clarke. “Meanwhile the city workers are out there, weather-permitting, seven days a week, making sure the lines are maintained. We estimate we invest close to $100 thousand in overtime alone.”

The cost of painting roads varies due to climate, traffic volumes, number of lanes, lane treatments, quality of tires (studded tires cause the most erosion) and road classifications.

Meanwhile The Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Canada establishes the type of lines used to ensure all traffic control devises, including paint lines, are consistent across Canada.

Mount Pearl

The City of Mount Pearl is also investing more money than ever before on road paint. Councilor Dave Aker says the city has awarded a contract for over $206,000, which is about $85,000 more than originally budgeted.

“After reviewing the tendering process, we concluded we need to spend more, and particularly to include glass beads in the painting — little fragments of glass that will result in a sturdier and better reflective paint application,” says Aker. “Our drivers and pedestrians will find this safer on rainy or winter nights.”

“Our drivers and pedestrians will find this safer on rainy or winter nights.” —Dave Aker

According to Clarke, the harsh weather we’ve had, combined with the use of studded tires in particular, have wrecked havoc on the city streets and the durability of the city’s road paint. Clarke says it’s also been a challenge to find durable paints for our climate, since some paint mixes are sensitive to temperature.

“Over the past three to five years we tried a number of steps, some with no or limited success,” says Clarke. “We tried different paints from practically every manufacturer.

We tried latex paints, but had to switch back to oil-based. We tried new equipment, airless paint machines, so that the paint that we put on the street doesn’t have to be thinned, and so on.”

Clarke says, on the bright side, the late onset of winter this year has allowed the road paint to last longer. Meanwhile, at the first sign of good weather, he says the city crews are out painting again.

“We already started Monday past with pre-marking the road, but need at least 10 degrees at the lowest to do the paint, because the paint needs to dry quickly, otherwise there’s a mess on the street with wheels driving over them.”

The road itself

Environment Canada is enacting legislation to come into effect mid-September 2012, which will require the use of low volatile organic compound (VOC) traffic marking coatings.

As a result of these legislative changes, the costs associated with road paint could be expected to rise in some regions. Clarke says the city’s aware of this new legislation.

“We are already part way there so we don’t see the new legislation having a big effect,” says Clarke. “That’s why last year the crews started using the latex paint. It’s easier to clean the machines, and it produces lower VOCs.”

Meanwhile, both municipalities are clearly making safety a priority above all else.

“Kenmount Road has to be done early in the morning; crews come on at 4am, when traffic picks up at 9am they go on to lower traffic volume areas.” —Jim Clarke

Clarke says for safety’s sake, some crews are forced to work into the early hours of the morning to ensure high trafficked areas have the painted road markings required. He says it’s unsafe for city workers to lay paint during busy, high volume traffic times, and adds that paint doesn’t get a chance to dry properly then either.

“Otherwise we paint during all available daylight hours,” says Clarke. “Kenmount Road has to be done early in the morning; crews come on at 4am, when traffic picks up at 9am they go on to lower traffic volume areas.”

Aker says the City of Mount Pearl also has strict safety standards in place for their contractual as well as city workers, and that council requires their contractual provider to have the Certificate of Recognition as issued by the Newfoundland and Labrador Construction Safety Association.

Road painting operations begin in St. John’s and Mount Pearl mid-April annually, when it is warm enough for the paint to adhere to the road. Lane lining crews and intersection marking crews work around the clocks until as late as October every year, when inclement weather prevents the process.

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