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Council increases road spending, but Calgarians won’t notice a smoother drive anytime soon

If you drive in Calgary, you may have noticed that the roads aren’t quite as smooth as they were in days gone by.

Since 2015, there’s been a drop in the quality of that pavement, although in recent years, the problems have levelled off.

City council recognized during last November’s budget adjustments there’s a need to invest more cash into its roads.

It approved a $23 million investment which will be spread over 2024-26.

The director of capital priorities and investment with the city’s infrastructure services department, Francois Bouchart, said there’s been a “progressive deterioration over time” in the condition of Calgary’s roads.

He said city employees track conditions through the year and the data is used to generate a rating on what’s called the pavement quality index (PQI).

In 2015, that index rated the road condition as 6.3 out of 10. A rating of 6 or higher means pavement condition is good or very good.

In 2023, the PQI was 5.8. A rating between 4 and 6 means roads are fair. Below that number, roads would be in poor or very poor condition.

Bouchart said budget reductions over the years resulted in a drop in road quality, although things have stabilized.

a snowy road. cars are driving past.
In 2015, the pavement quality index (PQI) rated Calgary’s road condition as 6.3 out of 10. In 2023, the PQI had dropped to 5.8. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

While council’s decision to increase the repaving budget will help, he advised that the improvements won’t be noticeable for some time.

“The level of investment that we have right now is basically holding us steady in terms of the overall condition of our roads across the city,” said Bouchart.

He said the city spends about $40 million annually for pavement and concrete. However, the condition of its roads is falling behind that in other Canadian cities.

“When we compare the percentage of our road system that is in good/very good condition, right now we’re hovering around 41 per cent. The national average is closer to 60-61 per cent.”

Maintaining road quality

Ward 12 Coun. Evan Spencer knows first hand that Calgary’s roads just aren’t as smooth as they were in the past.

He also hears about it from residents in his southeast ward.

“I’m not the only one that’s having to navigate that and that just adds to the consternation in the community.”

He said that this council inherited the problem from past councils and it’s a problem that’s coming home to roost at a time when council is trying to address other capital spending pressures.

Spencer said much of the $23 million council voted last November to add to the repaving budget won’t actually be spent until 2025 and 2026.

He added that this amount is really just keeping road quality about the same, not actually improving it. So the problem will not be going away anytime soon.

“This council and more particularly a future council is going to have to look at a sizeable increase in funding for this part of city operations if we’re going to slowly head back to a better pavement quality index across the city,” said Spencer.

From his vantage point, the road to a smoother ride is going to take money and patience.

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