I am writing this letter to express our community’s concern over the extremely dangerous conditions on the 11.3 km of Musgrave Road. In fact, I have been writing letters since 2014 expressing my concerns and requesting that a multi-year plan be implemented to bring this road up to its safety standard. This is a Class 6 public road that falls under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI), who contracts out the maintenance work to private maintenance contractors. The current contractor is Emcon Services Inc. and previously it was Mainroad South Island Contracting Ltd. These are the people responsible for the condition of this road. Based on an independent study of all Salt Spring Island roads, this one was the worst; the next lowest road rating was approximately 5 times higher. Musgrave Road is a terrible road and desperately needs work.
At the top of MOTI’s webpage is the following statement:
The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure plans and improves transportation networks, builds new infrastructure, provides transportation services, and implements transportation policies, to allow for the safe and efficient movement of people and goods.
Since 2014, I have written 8 letters expressing safety concerns (see attachment). I was under the impression that if a safety issue was raised, it would be attended to. I fully understand that fixing this road is a daunting task due to its very poor condition. However, if you never start, it will never get any better. I can honestly say that the only change that has been made to this road as a result of my letters is a sign at the beginning of the road that says:
"NO REGULAR ROAD MAINTENANCE BEYOND THIS POINT"
So apparently, there’s time and money available to put up a sign that confirms the fact that this road is being ignored from a maintenance perspective. What happened to “safe and efficient”? Is there anyone else on the planet that can say “I’m no longer doing this part of my job”? This sign went up approximately 3 years ago, just after my last letter. So, it has been 3.5 years since my last letter, and with COVID I find myself locked in place with time on my hands and still no resolution to my road safety concerns.
I am writing this letter today to a broad audience in an effort to get some safety concerns addressed. In the TO: address box are the Premier, the Salt Spring MLA, the federal MP, MOTI, Emcon, The Office of the Auditor General, CRD and the media. In the CC: address box are all stakeholders (road users) whose email address I was given. My objective is to raise the profile of Musgrave Road so it gets some sorely needed attention. I believe that this road is an example rather than an exception and as a result it’s story should appeal to anyone living on a substandard road. Be aware that this could be happening to you or someone you know.
I hope that I have piqued your interest and you are willing to continue reading to learn about the details. If you only want to get to the bottom line and find out what is being requested, skip down to the Summary. If you are interested in the broader view, have a look at the Bigger Picture section. If you would like to know the whole story, grab a coffee and enjoy the saga.
A great deal has happened in the 3.5 years since my last letter, 2 provincial elections, a Salt Spring Island Incorporation Referendum and a change in maintenance contractors. Not to mention a turnover of property owners along the road. There are many new people added to the email chain and there’s a lot to talk about. So, this is a very long letter with lots of details about Musgrave Road and its condition; good news though, it is the last long one. All subsequent letters will be short and only contain progress updates.
This letter is organized into the following headings:
The purpose of this letter is to motivate the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI) and Emcon Services Inc. (Emcon) to work with the Musgrave Road Community to establish a safe road for all. The intention is to get a plan initiated where substantive work can be performed over a number of years so that the road can be brought up to a safe level.
Background and Current State:
Let me start with my own background and establish some credibility to avoid being dismissed as a crackpot. I’m a retired Chartered Accountant and I have held Controller positions in both the public and private sectors. I have also worked in Information Technology as a Business Analyst. Based on this 30+ years of experience, I am familiar with financial matters in both the public and private sectors and understand the value of good information. I have searched the internet and found a number of documents which I will refer to in this letter.
The documents I am referencing are:
- Ministry of Transportation (MOT) Road Features Inventory (RFI)
- MOTI Maintenance Contracts - Schedule 1 (let’s call this ‘The Fine Print’)
- The Road Assessment portion of the Salt Spring Island Incorporation Study Final Report 2016 (SSI-IS)
- Musgrave Ocean Estates Prospectus (Prospectus)
I’m a full time resident of Musgrave Landing and first encountered Musgrave Road in 2005. Hence, I have 15 years first hand knowledge about the condition of this road. When I moved to Musgrave many of my neighbours were long term residents of 15+ years. So, the Musgrave Road community has at least 30 years direct knowledge of the work that has and has not been completed on this road.
I started writing these letters in 2014 (see attachment) because of a concern over the safety of the 11.3 km of Musgrave Road. Since 2014 the only responses received are 2 visits, one by a MainRoad (previous maintenance contractor) representative and the other by a MOTI representative. Nothing was promised in either meeting and no substantive work has been done to date. I continued to write letters in the hope that MOTI would put together a multi-year plan to address the very poor condition of this road. Admittedly these earlier letters were mostly general comments, without much factual data. Hence, this letter will contain more detailed facts in addition to the comments. It is afterall important to include the human side. The objective is unchanged, get a plan together to get this road to a safe condition.
Here are some facts about Musgrave Road (MR):
- MR is a public road and a MOTI responsibility (as per RFI document)
- MR is separated into 2 portions, one paved 3 km long portion and one dirt 11.3 km long portion (as per SSI-IS)
- MR was built in 1926 by Ted Akerman, to provide much needed access to the rest of Salt Spring for the residents of Musgrave
- Landing and the surrounding area (as per Salt Spring - The Story of an Island by Charles Kahn) (this background note is here simply to show how old Musgrave Road is.)
Musgrave Ocean Estates Bare Land Strata was created in 1985 and in the Prospectus a letter from the Dept of Highways gives direction on certain easements
I believe this is an indication that, sometime before 1985, Musgrave Road became the responsibility of MOTI, formerly known as the Department of Highways (it would be interesting to know when this transfer took effect)
I have no direct knowledge of what if any work was done to the road after it became a MOTI responsibility; however, it appears that virtually nothing was done (as per long term residents)
More recently, some greatly appreciated maintenance work was completed by MainRoad and Emcon in the form of gravel, grading and culverts, but no substantive improvements. The result being a road that staggers between very poor and dangerous.
MR remains well below standard and contains horrific potholes, a developing sinkhole, several blind corners, hundreds of trees on or too near the roadbed and a number of extremely narrow sections
MR was assessed by independent consultants as part of the Incorporation Study and of all Salt Spring Island roads it received the worst rating of 7/100. The 2nd worst rating was 34/100, almost 5 times higher. Not that 34% is something to be proud of.
Necessary Road Work:
There are basically 4 things this road needs:
- Tree removal (Sch1 - Section 6 subsection 4 Roadside Maintenance)
- Ditching (Sch1 - Section 6 subsection 2 Drainage Maintenance)
- Gravel and Grading (Sch1 - Section 6 subsection 1 Surface Maintenance)
- Elimination of blind corners and narrow sections (Sch1 - Section 5 Sight Distance)
Musgrave Road needs work in all these areas and this is where we want to talk about how we can work together to create a safe road that is easier to maintain. What everyone wants is a safe road with fewer potholes, sinkholes and blind corners. We don’t need to drive at 50 km/hr, but having to slow to less than 10 or having to back up 50 to 100 meters in order to pass oncoming traffic is not acceptable. The community has contributed to the road maintenance over the years to the best of our ability. We are now formalizing this contribution in an Adopt a Km program. Let’s talk about each work task and break it up into long and short term tasks.
Over the years, the community members have had to cut their way in and/or out on a number of occasions and will continue to do so, since we have no other choice given the maintenance contractors do not respond on a timely basis. There are hundreds of trees on the roadbed, in the ditch or too close to the road. These trees create visibility problems, impede ditching efforts and interfere with Emcon’s ability to grade the road.
In The Fine Print subsection 4 Roadside Maintenance, guidance is provided in the form of performance measures: 4.01 Vegetation Control and 4.02 Brush, Tree and Danger Tree Removal.
Vegetation Control - PM4.01.3-1 states: Cut vegetation from Shoulder tops and to a width of 1.8 metres from the Shoulder edge that exceeds 25 centimetres in height on Class 1-7 Highways.
Brush, Tree and Danger Tree Removal
PM4.02.3-1 states: Partially or completely remove brush/trees along Highways that cause
Sight Distance obstructions or impede drainage or create shaded areas on the road surface or when the maximum height above the Travelled
Lanes are reached, as follows:
Highway Maintenance Classification Distance from Shoulder Edge Maximum Height
a) Interchanges 1.8 - 15 metres 2 metres
b) 1 to 3 1.8 - 7 metres 3 metres
c) 4 to 6 1.8 - 5 metres 4 metres
PM4.02.3-2 states: Partially or completely remove overhanging trees/limbs over Travelled Lanes and Shoulders as follows:
Highway Maintenance Classification Distance from Shoulder Edge Elevation Above Surface
a) 1 to 3 - 0 to 3 metres 0 to 8 metres
b) 4 to 7 - 0 to 2 metres 0 to 8 metres
PM4.02.3-3 states: Assess immediately, any visually suspect Danger Tree and remove it, as instructed by a Qualified Assessor.
These are very detailed guidelines and if they were applied to Musgrave Road, it would make an amazing difference. However, it is not what we are expecting. In the short term, if the trees on the roadbed or in the ditch could be removed, it would be an incredible improvement. Long term, we can look at the trees a little further away, perhaps only 1 meter rather than The Fine Print distance of 2 meters. I enclose 2 pictures that demonstrate a serious potential danger to the continued existence of Musgrave Road, not to mention the safety of the road users. These pictures show an uprooted tree near the road. If this tree had been where I’m standing in the second picture, imagine the damage to the road. It’s fortunate that this was not one of the large trees growing out of the roadbed. In the immediate term, if the 6 to 8 very large trees on the roadbed were removed, it would potentially save significant dollars in road reconstruction.
As part of our Adopt a Km program, the community will remove small trees to the best of our ability. It’s the large, leaning and dangerous ones where we need your help. If you could simply start removing trees, we would see a significant improvement in the road condition. It would also make the much needed ditching improvements easier.
Another thing that MR needs is ditch maintenance. The Fine Print provides significant guidance. In subsection 2 Drainage Maintenance there is a lot of good information. Specifically,
2.01.2 Routine Maintenance Services
PM2.01.2-1-- Remove Debris and obstructions from Ditches where heavy equipment is not required and can be undertaken by handwork as follows:
Performance Criteria Response by Highway Classification 1 & 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 & 7
a) During High Water Flow - 60 min 90 min 2h 3h 4h
b) At other times 2m 3m 4m 6m 6m
2.01.3 Quantified Maintenance Services
PM2.01.3-1 Remove Debris and obstructions and re-establish existing Ditches or construct new Ditches requiring heavy equipment as follows:
Performance Criteria Response by Highway Classification 1 & 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 & 7
a) At all times 2m 3m 4m 6m 6m
Again, if the standards were applied consistently, everyone would be over the moon. These standards would have ditch clearing happen twice a year for Musgrave Road. In my 15 years here, the existing ditches were cleared once and no new ditches have been constructed. Although, some new culverts have been installed over the years. If the ditches were cleared once per year it would make a huge difference and if new ditches could be added where they don’t currently exist, that would be huge. This would go a long way to eliminating potholes and other problems with the road. Again, as part of the Adopt a Km program we will help to the best of our ability to keep the ditches clear. But we need your help to create new ditches and an annual clearing would be very helpful. It is recommended that the existing ditches be cleared as soon as possible. Going forward, an annual ditch clearing task should be done prior to the wet season. This would help eliminate potholes and ensure that pothole repairs last longer. The longer term task would be the creation of new ditches wherever needed.
Gravel and Grading:
Over the years, some gravel and grading has been done and everyone is always happy about it. Unfortunately, due to the trees and poor ditching, these efforts are quickly undone by weather and traffic and the road goes back to its seriously substandard condition. Once the trees and the ditches have been improved, any gravel and grading effort will be longer lasting and we’ll hopefully see an end to some of the potholes that have existed for decades. In The Fine Print the guidance on potholes is very clear and here the d stands for days, not decades.
1.03.3 Quantified Maintenance Services
PM1.03.3-1 Grading or Re-shaping of Dirt and Gravel Highways as follows:
In the short term, we would prefer the focus to be on tree removal and ditching. Once we catch up on those things, we can circle back and talk about gravel and grading. Recently some gravel has been applied to some potholes in the first 4 kms of MR. It would be nice if grading could be done periodically to protect the longevity of these repairs.
Elimination of blind corners and narrow sections:
There are many corners and narrow sections on MR as it winds its way over the mountain and most of the corners are visually impaired. There are only 5 truly blind corners:
- just before KM 3 marker,
- at KM 4 marker and turn off to 1372,
- several hundred meters past KM 4,
- by the puddle between KM 8 and 9 and
- finally by the waterfall just before KM 10).
The worst one (at KM 4) stands out due to an incident between 2 Musgrave Landing neighbours. One neighbour was racing for the ferry (probably achieving a top speed of 40km/hr) and the other neighbour was driving home. They met at the intersection to 1372 Musgrave Road (at KM marker 4). A head on collision was avoided when the homeward bound driver missed the corner and drove into the road at 1372. The next time the neighbours met, there was extensive discussion and possibly colourful language about the incident. Since that time, this corner has been referred to by some as Poopy Pants Corner. I’m very glad it didn’t have to be named RIP Corner.
Joking aside, blind corners are dangerous and should be addressed as soon as possible. In the immediate term, the installation of traffic mirrors on these 5 blind corners would help make the road safer. In the short term, it would be greatly appreciated if someone with expertise in this area could assess the road and come up with a plan to eliminate these hazards. The long term would be the implementation of the plan. This is an area that is out of scope for the Adopt a Km program.
In The Fine Print, blind corners fall under something called Sight Distance.
“Sight Distance” means driver visibility of the Highway, Signs and intersections at minimum distance to safely drive the Highway at these locations.
a) For the purpose of removing all movable obstructions, including but not limited to brush, tall grass, and abandoned vehicles from the Highway Right-of-way, the following minimum sight distances will be met
This is the section where I will discuss the human side of the problem, no details, just perceptions about the road and the impact of its condition on people’s lives.
There are many different people who use the road:
Property owners, both full and part time, seniors, retirees, workers, business owners, students. It’s a diverse group with different ideas on how the road should be maintained. Although, it’s pretty clear that everyone would like more than what is currently being provided.
Contractors and suppliers, there are a number of houses under construction and there are many different trades using the road. As a matter of fact, one of the difficulties of living on Musgrave Road is convincing the trades and service providers to venture out on the road.
The Clear Light Park of Profound Bliss Buddhist Monastery holds retreats and their participants use the road, I’m sure most of them are looking for bliss after driving the road…
There is a Government dock at the end of Musgrave Road, run by the Harbour Authority of Salt Spring Island, I’m sure that they would also appreciate some road improvement for when they need to maintain the dock.
The Capital Region District (CRD) uses the road to maintain the Mill Farm Regional Park Reserve. In fact, they were in there working just a few days ago. It looks like they are creating a parking lot, except there’s a big gate, newly re-erected, so it’s not clear what is going to happen. If the Mill Farm is going to be a full fledged park, perhaps this means more people using the road.
NavCanada uses the road to reach their communication equipment, I believe they have done some snow removal and fallen tree clearing over the years and I’m fairly sure that they would be interested in getting some improvements to the road.
BC Hydro also uses the road in order to deal with power outages, same comment for them.
The telecommunication companies need to use the road to service their cell towers.
Traffic has increased on the road. In the early days, it was rare to encounter another car, now it’s rare not to encounter several.
There are people who refuse to use the road causing additional hardship to those dependent on the road for day to day essentials:
The big courier companies (FedEx, Purolator, UPS) and other delivery services refuse to use the road
Ambulance services have refused to use the road
There is no garbage or recycling service available, I suspect this is due to the condition of the road since 11.3 km isn’t very far
Most of the road is outside the fire protection zone of Salt Spring Island, would this change if the road was in better shape?
Some Realtors discourage clients from looking at properties on this road
I believe that the winter rating for Musgrave Road is an E, which is very low and as a result it gets very little attention. This would probably be less problematic if the road were in better shape. However, with its very poor current condition, the rain and snow exacerbates the conditions making the road treacherous.
The Adopt a Km program is currently being launched. It is anticipated that KM 5 through 11.3 will be adopted without any problem given this is where most of the residents reside. It is not known whether KM 0 - 5 will get adopted. Interestingly, this section of the road could have been eliminated if the Sky Water development had been required to provide access to properties beyond. Food for thought.
The Bigger Picture:
This portion of the letter is intended to shed light on the problem of poorly maintained roads. Musgrave Road is the poster child for what can happen if a road is not maintained and managed appropriately. I submit that Musgrave Road is an example rather than an exception. I have addressed this letter to Politicians, the media and the Office of Auditor General in the hope of raising the profile of Musgrave Road and others like it. I ask that you use your influence and encourage this work to be done. Here is why I believe this is a bigger issue than one poor, pitiful road on a small island:
Musgrave Road is an example of what can happen to any road if it is ignored long enough.
The Incorporation Study - Road Assessment identified 27.9% of roads on Salt Spring Island to be below standard. Some would argue that the percentage of poor roads is actually higher. I would be surprised if MOTI didn’t have an inventory that specifies road conditions throughout the province. Something that could be audited possibly...
It is not unreasonable to extrapolate this percentage across all roads in BC, begging the question of how many more Musgrave roads are out there? And how many more are heading in that direction?
The terminology I have used in the past for long standing incomplete maintenance is Deferred Maintenance.
The Incorporation Study identified $62 million of Deferred Maintenance on Salt Spring Island; this is a small island with less than 300 kms of roads. How much Deferred Maintenance exists in the Province? In the Country?
Is it the policy of our governments to ignore problems when they get past a tipping point?
Property taxes are paid annually to the province and the Province is supposed to provide services in return. One of these services is road maintenance. In fact, for the people who live on Musgrave Road, the only service we get is road maintenance (such as it is). If the road becomes impassible, has the Province breached its contractual obligation and are we no longer obligated to pay property taxes? How many people would be impacted by this?
The 2021 Property Assessments came out recently and on average land values in Musgrave Landing increased by approximately 40%. Interestingly, this is the exact percentage we were told was a discount due to the poor condition of Musgrave Road. Are we no longer going to receive this discount because there are road improvements on the horizon?
From a safety perspective:
if someone is killed or seriously injured on this road, who’s liable?
Given the current road conditions, it’s likely that the road would be deemed to have contributed to the accident.
Would this create a large liability for the government? Meaning the taxpayer
How many other roads are in a similar state?
Musgrave Road needs work. It was created in 1926 and became a MOTI responsibility some time between 1926 and 1985. Over the years, it has only received minimal maintenance work and its poor condition has never been improved. The community has assisted with the efforts and is fully prepared to continue to help, but we need the help of MOTI and Emcon. No one is looking for a super highway or even full standards compliance. We simply want a safe road. We are happy with a multi-year plan to work on the 4 identified areas:
Immediate term - remove 6 to 8 very large trees growing on roadbed
Short term - remove remaining trees growing on roadbed and in the ditch
Long term - remove trees growing 1 meter from the road
Immediate term - clear out existing ditches and unclog culverts
Short term - complete annual ditch clearing prior to rainy season
Long term - create new ditches where needed
Gravel & Grading
Short term - grade areas where gravel has been applied
Long term - fix potholes and grading as necessary
Elimination of Blind Corners & Narrow sections
Immediate term - install traffic mirrors at 5 blind corners
Short term - do an assessment and create a plan
Long term - implement above mentioned plan
Incremental progress can work to improve the condition of the road and make it safer and easier to maintain. The result would be a win win for everyone. If you never start, there will never be any improvement.
Thank you for your time.
Marianne (Myanna) Isaak