Commentary

We Deserve to Know the Truth About the Buried Red Hill Parkway Report

A consultant report finding that the pavement is too slippery was buried for five years before staff revealed it yesterday.

By Ryan McGreal
Published February 07, 2019

I participated in the Road 2 Hope half-marathon on November 5, 2017, and the rain was blatting sideways when we set out from the starting line at Dofasco Park. A major highlight of this race is that it runs down the Red Hill Valley Parkway between Albion Road and Barton Street.

The views down the valley are incredible, especially with the autumn leaves in full regalia. but my joy was tempered by the memorials placed along the median guardrail for lives cut short by horrific collisions - including the two young women killed in May 2015.

This was my first time running the race on a rainy day, and I couldn't help but notice that the pavement on Red Hill seemed a lot more slippery than the surface roads connecting to it. Of course, this observation was purely subjective and anecdotal, but I was not at all surprised to learn that several drivers have described the parkway the same way.

Nor was I surprised to learn that serious collisions and fatalities disproportionately occur on Red Hill as compared to the Lincoln Alexander Parkway, even though Red Hill only runs around seven km and the Linc is one-and-a-half times as long at 11 km.

Collisions/Year, LINC vs. RHVP
LINC RHVP
Source: PW19012 City of Hamilton Annual Collision Report - 2017
2013 135 128
2014 138 117
2015 135 238
2016 144 186
2017 159 193
Avg 142 172
Avg/KM 13 25

Of course, there are other confounding variables between the two stretches of parkway that could also explain the discrepancy in collisions. For example, Red Hill is winding and has a significant elevation change, whereas the Linc is relatively straight and flat.

In addition, City staff reported in December 2015 that they had analyzed the surface of the Red Hill and that the results were inconclusive.

So maybe the real problem was that the speed limit signs weren't large enough.

Red Hill Valley Parkway (RTH file photo)
Red Hill Valley Parkway (RTH file photo)

Hidden Report

That all changed yesterday, when staff went in camera with the General Issues Committee to advise the council members that a consultant road surface analysis report from November 2013 - five years ago - had, um, surfaced late last year during a departmental audit.

The report, prepared by Tradewind Scientific, tested the friction on Red Hill and found that it was, in fact, lower than the standard - and in some areas, a lot lower. The report states:

When compared to the available Risk Rating Table referring to Grip Number Data for UK Roads (Appendix I), the average GripTester Friction Numbers of the tested sections of the Red Hill Valley Parkway were found to be generally well below the reference Investigatory Level 2. Most of the length of this road had Grip Numbers in the range of 30-40.

It includes friction charts for each parkway, with the standard marked by the green line. The Linc generally meets and exceeds the standard:

Chart: Lincoln Alexander Parkway grip test (Image Credit: Tradewind Scientific Friction Testing Survey Summary Report, Lincoln Alexander and Red Hill Valley Parkways (Hamilton), November 20, 2013)
Chart: Lincoln Alexander Parkway grip test (Image Credit: Tradewind Scientific Friction Testing Survey Summary Report, Lincoln Alexander and Red Hill Valley Parkways (Hamilton), November 20, 2013)

Whereas Red Hill consistently falls significantly short of the standard:

Chart: Red Hill Valley Parkway grip test (Image Credit: Tradewind Scientific Friction Testing Survey Summary Report, Lincoln Alexander and Red Hill Valley Parkways (Hamilton), November 20, 2013)
Chart: Red Hill Valley Parkway grip test (Image Credit: Tradewind Scientific Friction Testing Survey Summary Report, Lincoln Alexander and Red Hill Valley Parkways (Hamilton), November 20, 2013)

So it isn't just your imagination - Red Hill really is more slippery than it's supposed to be. And some person or persons at the City has known this for more than five years but kept silent about it.

An extraordinary press release issued this morning is a bleak exercise in mealy-mouthed, lawyerly caution. We get an apology from "staff" (with no actual names) on behalf of the City - not for burying the damning report but for "how this matter has come to [the public] attention."

We learn that the City is "taking precautionary action" by spending $15 million to resurface Red Hill this coming spring and to reduce the speed limit from 90 km/h to 80 km/h.

Wait, "precautionary"? Are you serious? After five years and several fatalities, we are well into post-cautionary action at this point.

We Own This

It's important to note here that, even though the Red Hill/Linc looks like a highway and merges seamlessly with our provincial highway system - the QEW on the northeast and Highway 403 on the southwest - it is actually a municipal road.

We designed this road. We built it. We operate and maintain it. And we are paying for it.

In the early 2000s, while more progressive cities were already admitting the folly of municipal highways and decommissioning them, Hamilton finally made it to the 20th century highway party, fulfilling the dream of more than 50 years of road-building enthusiasm around City Hall.

The Red Hill project must have been the gig of a lifetime for municipal engineers and project managers, like a farm-team veteran finally getting an at-bat in the big league. The Red Hill project director came out of it on such a professional high that he leapfrogged over more senior candidates to become the City Manager.

There was a lot riding - both figuratively and literally - on the success of the Red Hill project. An independent analysis finding that we screwed up the pavement would embarrass the city and look bad on a lot of people. Somebody clearly decided that it was worth the risk of burying the report to protect the reputation of the project from the truth of its implementation.

We absolutely need to get to the bottom of who knew what and when. There can be no tolerance for corporate rank-closing, obfuscation or face-saving - if nothing else, the families of Red Hill victims deserve the truth after five years of lies.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus and HuffPost. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.

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By shaddupsevenup (registered) | Posted February 08, 2019 at 09:32:30

I think, as a former City employee, that the timing of this is fascinating. Chris Murray, the former City Manager, was the Senior Project Manager for the RHVP project and oversaw it from beginning to end. Isn't it funny how this report surfaces just months after he leaves? City Hall has a culture of sabotage and bullying, and it never goes uphill, just down. I'm not saying it's okay that someone sat on that report, but I do understand why they did.

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By ScreamingViking (registered) | Posted February 09, 2019 at 19:46:56

The apology leaves a lot to be desired. Yeah, the lack of transparency is a relevant thing, but so is the gawd-damn issue that the suppressed report highlights.

Own up to both!

I've never noticed anything wrong with RHVP personally. But I'm very disappointed in city council, city staff, and their communications team.

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By Blotto (registered) | Posted February 12, 2019 at 13:22:05

Good luck getting drivers to comply with 80km/h speed limit. Nothing in perception has changed for the motorist, the feel of the road is still the same.

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