Paving Shoulders Helps Everyone

shouldersA recent article in the Brockville Recorder and Times highlighted the renewed and repeated call for paving shoulders on county roads.  Let’s use this opportunity to shed some light on why this is a good idea.

First of all, it saves taxpayers money.  Yes, perhaps counter-intuitive, given that it costs more to upgrade a road to include paved shoulders, especially when culverts, drainage ditches and rock cuts are considered. However, the surrounding counties – Lennox-Addington, Stormont-Dundas and Lanark – all have paved shoulders policies. Many other jurisdictions in North America do as well. Their experience is that the reduced operational costs pay back the increased capital costs over 8 – 10 years.  The operational savings come from reduced need to regrade gravel shoulders a few times a year, rebuild gravel shoulders when eroded or damaged by winter snow clearing activity, improved drainage and longer lifespan of the asphalt road edges when vehicle run-off is eliminated, especially on the inner radius of curves.

The savings are accelerated when considering that the capital costs of road works are usually shared with the provincial or federal governments, reducing the local taxpayers’ direct burden to 50% in many cases. Add to this the fact that all the savings are operational – 100% covered by local taxpayers in the county budget.

We could end the business case there. Paving shoulders saves taxpayers money over the long run. End of story.  Not so fast!  There are other savings too.

Statistics from jurisdictions with paved shoulders show that single vehicle “off the edge” crashes are reduced anywhere from 9% to 40% (this latter from Florida).  Every year in Leeds-Grenville we read about a handful of single vehicle crashes in which the motorist drove off the edge of the road and couldn’t recover, often going on to hit a tree or a utility pole.   Paved shoulders provide some recovery room, leading to crash reductions.  This saves lives.  This also saves the costs associated with those collisions: emergency response, trauma and longer term health care, insurance, lost wages and funerals. Some articles suggest that for higher-risk roads, this aspect of paved shoulders alone provides a monetary business case.

Almost as a side benefit, not costing shoulders2anything at all when the above is considered, paved shoulders support active mobility.  Many country residents use county road shoulders for walking – walking their dogs, walking for exercise.  Paving shoulders provides sure footing and a place to walk.  Paved shoulders also provide riding space for people riding bikes out of the travel lane.  This latter point is especially important given the growth of cycle tourism through this region.  The Ontario Waterfront Trail route follows County Road 2, and it’s one of the least bicycle friendly stretches of Trail in the network’s 1,600 km.

In November 2011, county staff were directed to develop a paved shoulders policy for consideration by council.  That never happened.  Let’s renew the call for a common sense policy that saves money and lives, and that supports active mobility which in turn generates economic benefit in tourism and improved health.

Author: Alan Medcalf

Alan is a post-corporate, volunteer, community builder living in Brockville, Ontario. He seeks to create sustainable lifestyle advantage for the community by creating opportunities for more people to choose to walk and to ride bikes. He promotes the health, social, environmental and economic benefits of active mobility.