Roads, bridges, and highways don’t clean themselves. It takes dedicated teams to pound the pavement daily and ensure that those roads are safe for the millions of people who use them every day. Emcon Services is one such team responsible for keeping the streets of Canada clean and repaired, and through new technology and education it’s helping others do the same.
Not Glamorous but Important
Our highway maintenance contracts are everything about road maintenance and bridge maintenance – we plow roads, we fix potholes, we mow grass, change signs, and repair bridges,” says Emcon President Frank Rizzardo. “The work is year round, there isn’t a slack period. We have about 7,000Km of road that we look after throughout the three areas we have in Vancouver Island center North and the West Kootenays. It’s not very glamorous in a lot of ways – we’re the ones plowing the road before the traffic is there, working the night shifts or the late afternoon shifts that people don’t like.”
But while it may not be glamorous per se, it’s a service that’s vital. “We’re getting the snow clear or the roads clear for traveling where there are school busses or commuters or industrial traffic, trying to make it safer for people to get to work or to school or home,” says Rizzardo. “We’re sweeping the road surface of debris, we’re removing winter abrasives or repairing potholes, or doing rehabilitation repair work to infrastructure so that the condition of the infrastructure as it ages depreciates on a steady scale rather than an aggressive one. That’s really the focus of highway maintenance, in our province and across the world – to try and keep the level of degeneration to a controlled gradient.”
A Responsibility to Improve
The belief at Emcon isn’t just that roadwork is a job that needs to be done – it’s a job that needs to be done well. “We believe in the responsibility and values of being there and providing services to the traveling public,” says Rizzardo. “We believe that because we’re being compensated we have a fiduciary duty to do it to the best of our ability. In order to do that, we have to keep abreast of all of the current and innovative practices that may be used in the industry.”
For Rizzardo, that responsibility has included getting involved in organizations to better understand the state of transportation as a whole. “We were the first maintenance contractor to be part of the Transportation Association of Canada, thinking that that’s an important vehicle to find out what else is happening in road maintenance across the country,” he explains. “We’re also the Canadian nominee for the Winter Service Committee of the international committee on road infrastructure (PIARC) – I’ve been on that committee for 16 years. It’s a matter of being on a table with 42 other country representatives and talking about what the best practices are and the current tools or equipment or methods used to achieve a task – that results in improvements in your operation.”
On the Forefront of New Technology
When you commit to educating yourself and your company, the result can be a place at the vanguard of new innovations. It can also mean having a say in the development of those innovations as they come.
“Because I was a member of the transportation association of Canada, I sat on the committee that created the salt management guidelines and was pushing toward calibration using computers on salt handling equipment – so all of our trucks are calibrated to put out specified amounts of product per lane kilometer of road, whether it’s light, medium, or heavy,” says Rizzardo. “We’ve also been on the forefront of using alternative materials. We’ve been using brine in advance of storms to reduce the connection of snow onto the pavement surface, it allows us to clean the snow off quicker and more completely. If it’s pre-brined it doesn’t adhere as much. It also stops the initial snow from adhering, you get a wet surface and not a compact surface.”
Emcon has not been afraid to be the first on the block with new technologies in the name of improving the road maintenance industry. “We’re the first contractor out there that proposed and brought spray patch equipment and techniques in to repair asphalt cracks and elevated sections or small depressions,” says Rizzardo. “We did that for a year prior to taking it to the Ministry of Transportation and getting it approved as a method of repair. We were the first to come out early on with a wobbly wheel attachment to the rear of a grader, such that the compaction of graded surface would achieve a higher density of the finished product and reduce the amount of repeat grading you have to do and therefore reduce cost and improve service to the traveler – and we were also the first in BC to implement the tow plow and one of the first to introduce wings to our trucks back in 1989. So we’re all about innovation in carrying out a task and doing the work that’s necessary, whether it’s using the right equipment or the right methodology to get a task done.”
Spreading the Word on Innovations
When your business is onto something, a natural instinct can be to keep it to yourself. At Emcon, the aim is to spread what it has learned over these last 26 years to others who can use it.
“We try and encourage owners to look at outsourcing as a method of providing taxpayers with the best bang for their buck,” says Rizzardo. “At various times, the involvement of Emcon has resulted in an owner saving money. I’ve gone and done seminars in Malaysia – the Canadian High Commission got me involved to do a seminar for the government of Malaysia who were thinking of outsourcing their state roads. We’ve also been down in Nevada and provided information to some friends there who are part of the PIARC international committee. The seminar we participated in assisted them in them looking at their options in a different light. Whether they outsource or not, I think the seminar was successful in that it gave the managers of the DoT there opportunities to think about what they were doing and maybe change some of their approaches. Education is one of the things that we like to do, sharing information to improve what other people do.”