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I got lost on the cement highway

Steve Campbell

Yes, we have a cement highway, and we don’t know what to do with it. It was a great idea (more on that later) but now it’s past its expiry date. It’s very bumpy. It’s not bumpy like the corrugated roads built by our pioneers out of logs, which even made the horses go ‘ouch’, but bumpy as in: “I need to make my BMW weave back and forth, so as to maintain my inner peace – inner peace I bought for $500,00 dollars.”
That kind of bumpy. Sure, I feel my tires shredding with every attempt to dodge the lame asphalt patches the County boys use to try to give us the same luxurious ride we have on, say, Space Mountain. They try their best, but there’s only so much they can do.
The problem is: cement. If you’re somewhat new to the County (arrived after 1898), you may not know how we got a cement road. Years ago, a colleague of mine, who was an engineer, and obnoxious (not that they go hand in hand) couldn’t stop freaking out about: “The only cement highway north of the Mason-Dixon line!” And it’s true. Cement doesn’t often play well with expansion and contraction and, when you have 30ºC in Summer and -40º in Winter, cement is not a fan. The solution was to add expansion grooves along the highway. And it worked. For a long time.

So, How did this happen?
It all started with the Big Bang Theory. No, I won’t take you that far back. It started with one of our most glorious and honoured true County characters: Mayor H.J. McFarland. He was tough, strong, smart and proud, despite an apparent lack of formal education. His big break came in 1937 when he received a paving contract for the highway from Glenora Ferry to Picton, and he built the H.J. McFarland Construction Company. His success grew and, in 1956, he constructed a huge cement plant north of Picton (still in operation under different ownership).
So here we have the makings of a Perfect Storm: A great idea; a company to do it; cement to lay it down.
H.J. was a powerful man – he served as Mayor of Picton for 20 years. He was loved and hated. He was gracious to everyone around him. But still the legend surrounded him: “What was good for Harvey was good for Picton, and what was good for Picton was good for Harvey.” This is not a nasty sentiment; it was too true.
In 1965, when construction of Highway 49 began, the County was cut off from the mainstream 401 access. We were doomed to be some forgotten little place no-one would bother to come to. H.J. knew that, and that now vile cement road was the solution.
Still, it was a road to nowhere, until the Skyway Bridge was finished in 1967 to replace the rather crude Green Point Ferry operating near that spot. The bridge, as we know, is also under reconstruction until 3045, but if the wait bothers you, it does avoid a sudden deep fall into the Bay of Quinte with your kids (and hopefully your $500,000 BMW, just because I hate you?).

Will it ever be fixed?
Well, we’ve landed in the Top 10 Worst Roads chart with CAA, and with visitors everywhere. (I find, if you drive exactly 150kmh on Highway 49, you don’t even feel the bumps. Watch out for cops at Fish Lake Road. They like to hide there.)
Our Council is working on it, according to another local paper. They met with the AMO, which is the Association of Municipalities Conference. I don’t know why they didn’t spell their acronym right, but it tends to reduce my confidence in them. I don’t put much trust in leaders who don’t know their alphabet.
And speaking of wording, get out your pen and paper on this, as reported: “Meetings are confirmed with the Minister of Infrastructure about funding for the $29 million rehabilitation of County Road 49.” Let’s unpack the copious information we have here:
A meeting has been confirmed. That means a meeting will be held sometime, but has not yet happened. The meeting which hasn’t happened is about $29 million, which also hasn’t happened. So really, this was report on things that haven’t happened. I have a pile of those in my desk drawer, including alien invasions, and secret trysts with Jennifer Aniston. (Should happen any time; I’ll keep you posted.)

How to fix it?
This is where I shine. I was an almost engineer, about 50 years ago or so, but I still maintain my problem-solving abilities, even though I still can’t integrate 0 to n, even if you torture me.
But, faced with a problem, I can’t help but try to find solutions. On my first try: Nuke it. Yes, that’s right. Blow the whole thing out of the ground. It would be a good idea to warn the tourists, and those guys who hold the Slow/Stop signs. Also, those lit signs that read: ‘Skyway Bridge Closed Tonight’,’ should say, ‘Radioactive Zone. Closed until 2025.’ That was not my best effort.
But my second thought might be workable. How do you make a road? You bring in heavy equipment, and you make your roadway flat. Sometimes they cut through big hills, so that jerk with the BMW gets a nice smooth ride.
Ponder this: We already have a flat roadway. It’s not an award-winning flat surface, but let’s call it suitably flat, as County land goes. For example, it’s not Rock Crossroad, which is an axle-breaking experience from beginning to end, even if you drive a Hum-V.
So we have a flat surface, and we want to build a road. Hmmmm. I’m not a rocket scientist (there are delays in my Amazon degree), but if you have a flat surface, totally surveyed and approved by the provincial government (which abandoned it and made it our problem), would that not be at least halfway to building a road, since it’s already a road?
Do we need to destroy a road to rebuild it? For $29 invisible million dollars? Hell, you’ve got a flat surface ready to go. Anything wrong with piling on some gravel, like on other County roads, and then paving it? To me it looks like the usual road surface you pile gravel and asphalt onto, except way more expensive, because they need to break up that cement and spend a couple of million to have it broken into chucks and exported to other Ontario towns, which may be short on bug chunks of useless cement.

Sometimes the best solutions are the easiest. By the way, for those who shake their heads about our cement highway: H.J.’s dream was right. He connected us to the outside world, and we prospered from it. Also, keep in mind that Hwy. 49 lasted over 50 years before it started to need heavy repair. How many main roads in the County go 50 years without maintenance? Hell, they seem to rip up perfectly good roads every summer. Highway 49 grew old, as things do. We know a lot more about road-building than we did in 1965. Do we not know how to solve this?

  • Steve Campbell is editor and publisher of County Magazine, and the author of several books, including The County Handbook: How to Survive in Prince Edward County.

Filed Under: News from Everywhere ElseSteve Campbell

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  1. CountySteve says:

    Looks to me like there’s enough roadbuilding knowledge here to find a solution.
    To Chris: Haven’t been down Rock Crossroad for years. Only once, and never again. I assume it’s a superhighway now?
    To Ayar: I know, That whole paragraph was a joke. Guess not everybody got it.

  2. Michelle says:

    Irregardless most County folk refer to 49 as being built out of cement!

  3. Paul D Cole says:

    I stand corrected it was Jethro Bodine who referred to it as the ‘ceement’ pond… apologies…

  4. Paul D Cole says:

    Don’t worry Steve I guess Granny Clampett got it wrong when called it the ceeement pond too…

  5. Drew says:

    Steve, it’s called concrete…. Cement is the “powder” produced at the plant which is the bonding agent for aggregates to produce concrete.
    Hwy 49 has exceeded its lifespan and rehabilition is obvious. Concrete roads are still very common around the world and right here on the 407. Although concrete far exceeds asphalt road lifespan they cost exceptionally more to rehab. Pay me now or pay me later.
    The concrete needs to be rubulized, gravel topped and paved with hot mix asphalt. You cannot simply pave over top of it….there are many other problems that creates.

  6. Susan says:

    Was a Provincial Highway prior to the Harris download. Should return to a Highway as a gateway to the County and Sand Banks Park.

  7. angela says:

    Harvey McFarland had his detractors in the many years he served as Picton’s mayor. There were complaints that he had too much power and influence. Truth be told there has not been a mayor since his time who has done nearly as much for the town. He may not have had a university degree but he was a man of high intelligence and great generosity. He extended a helping hand to many an individual and the town often benefited from his gifts. He genuinely loved the Town of Picton and there has been no one like him in the years since his death.

  8. Bill Cowan says:

    H. J. McFarland was indeed a visionary and a man with a mission to make Prince Edward County the best in the Province. I am afraid that men like Harvey J. are very hard to find. And by the way you can be brilliant without a university degree, Thank you Steve for writing this article. I would like to read your top ten entrepreneurs in the history of the COUNTY.

  9. Dennis Fox says:

    Let’s not forget ho we got into this highway financing fiasco in the first place. Mike Harris dumped the maintenance cost onto us. There is no way that this community can afford to repave or re-concrete that highway. Where are our local and provincial reps on this? It is time that the residents of PEC dump Highway 49 back onto the province. Let’s see how Doug and Todd deal with this one – it is long overdue!

  10. Michelle says:

    Don’t necessarily disagree but the cost would be formidable. The plan is for asphalt.

  11. Mike Rodgers says:

    I hope when rebuilt the brain trust will go with concrete again. This 50 year old road with very little maintenance has stood up well. Imagine its condition now if it had been surfaced with asphalt back 50 years ago.

  12. ChrisW says:

    Ditto on the AMO.
    Also, the road is concrete — not ‘cement’.
    And, Rock Crossroad is perfectly must mean Roses or Kellers (spelled Kellars at the other end, but that’s another story)

  13. ayar says:

    Sorry, Steve, but they did get the acronym right. AMO stands for Association of Municipalities of Ontario. Where conference came from I don’t know but I could lose faith in journalists who don’t know their alphabet!

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