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Highway Heaven

CHARLOTTETOWN, P. E. I. - With a $48-million road construction capital budget already in hand, and word of even more money to come, Prince Edward Island's aggregate haulers couldn't be happier, or mor...

CHARLOTTETOWN, P. E. I. –With a $48-million road construction capital budget already in hand, and word of even more money to come, Prince Edward Island’s aggregate haulers couldn’t be happier, or more relieved.

“Two-thousand-and-nine should be busy. We expect a longer season and a lot of jobs to be posted,” says Donnie Corrigan, executive director, PEI Truckers Association (PEITA).

Part of his job is to take calls every afternoon from five district checkers about the work taking place the following day.

He posts the jobs on PEITA’s job line and members call in after eight o’clock to see what open hauls are available.

“In 2006 there were about 12-14 jobs on the job line every night and that held up for three months. In 2008 there were the same number of jobs posted every night but the pace only held up for one month,” Corrigan says.

This year though, Transportation and Public Works started putting jobs out for tender in February instead of May, getting the season off to an earlier start. And with a budget to work with like none other in the department’s history, truckers will be tapping their toes.

In fact, where last year some independents dropped out of the game, this year others have taken the plunge and purchased trucks. “This year I have gotten several calls from guys starting up,” Corrigan says.

Last year was a stinker, even though the road works budgets had crept up from $25 million in 2006/2007 to $30 million in 2007/2008 and $31.6 million in 2008/2009. It didn’t help that there was a record 27 days of rain last August, and record rainfall for the year, according to Corrigan, but the last nail in the coffin was the cost of fuel.

“In July, 2008 diesel cost $1.55/litre. On May 15, 2009 it was 85.5 cents/litre,” Corrigan says. “We had major issues last year in the trucking industry. After a 20-kilometre haul with a tandem truck, you started losing money. It just didn’t pay you to haul high kilometres. There were a lot of hauls; for example, one 52-kilometre haul, that didn’t pay. But this year I am sure that the guys would go for it.”

The fuel surcharge structure was also frustrating.

It kicks in at $1.10/litre and rises in 10-cent increments, meaning that truckers eat a lot of cost between the dimes.

Sky-high oil prices also put Transportation and Public Works off its feed.

For example, Corrigan says, “Work on Route 2 has been ongoing for three years, and a big project in Hunter River was cancelled last year. This was a major project that some of the guys relied on. It got put off in part due to environmental issues, but at the end of it, I feel that fuel was the deciding factor. A lot of issues were brought on last year from the cost of fuel.”

The Hunter River project was revived this May.

“A big hill has to come out and there will be a lot of trucking,” Corrigan says.

He attributes a lot of this year’s heavy action to Minister of Transportation and Public Works Ron MacKinley.

“He wants to pave as many roads as possible. He is a farmer and he knows trucking. He drives all the roads and he’ll say, ‘this road needs paving and that road needs paving’.”

MacKinley is hard-pressed to disagree.

“PEI is built on a sandbar and we are always having problems with the roads. We are doing major recap work. I say go over the existing roads and recap.”

Recapping is a lot cheaper than waiting til the roads fall apart and need rebuilding, according to MacKinley. He also says that by opening up the competition for hauling asphalt to more truckers, his department can lay 60% more asphalt a day.

“I saw inefficiencies. This is one of the reasons why the province is giving me more money. I put a new face on the highway here. People are proud to work and truckers are proud to haul,” MacKinley explains.

A farmer by trade, MacKinley applies a work ethic taught to him by the caprice of weather.

“What I have done is to get the people to supply the asphalt 10 days earlier, instead of finishing up later in the fall. I think as a farmer: Get going early. If it is raining today it will likely be sunny tomorrow. But not in the fall.”

As a licensed trucker he understands truckers’ needs and talks their language.

“Truckers are very important to the livelihood of our roads. They invited me to the PEITA annual general meeting this February. We discussed technical questions. I said I would not increase rates but that I would increase the amount of work.”

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