Road Services

Picture, Aerial view of the Ottawa Queensway

Performance Highlights

  • Ottawa’s operating cost per lane km of paved road is $1,211, below the OMBI median of $1,362
  • Ottawa’s operating costs for winter maintenance per lane km is $4,224, above the OMBI median of $2,652


Key Facts

  • 5,400 km of roadways
  • 1,580 km of sidewalks
  • 60 km of Transitway

Ottawa’s transportation system affects the economic vitality of the city and the quality of life of residents. Road services play a significant role in building and maintaining a transportation network that meets the community’s needs and ensures safe and efficient movement for drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians.

Ottawa’s road network includes roads, the Transitway, bridges, and sidewalks. In addition to constructing and repairing infrastructure, road services include clearing the transportation network of snow or debris to ensure that it is safe and convenient to use.

In developing and maintaining its roads, the City of Ottawa must consider public expectations, traffic volume, budgetary constraints, and best practices in risk management.

How does Ottawa compare?
What is the City doing to improve road services?

How does Ottawa compare?

Various factors impact the composition and costs associated with maintaining the road network in a municipality. Some of these include:

  • Geographic size and location of the municipality
  • Weather patterns (i.e., winter conditions)
  • Volume of traffic travelling on the roads – more volume accelerates deterioration
  • Service level standards
  • Urban and rural mix
  • Age of infrastructure

The mix of roads under a municipality’s responsibility is also a factor. Single-tier municipalities (cities/counties) are responsible for maintaining all types of roads, including arterial, collector, and local roads, and in some cases, expressways. Upper-tier governments (regional government/districts) are not responsible for maintenance of local roads. To help the reader compare the results for OMBI municipalities with similar responsibilities, some of the graphs have been grouped by level of municipal government.

In light of these factors, the following are some comparative results for road services.

What is the size of the road network?
What is the volume of traffic on our main roads?

What does it cost to maintain our roads?

What does it cost to clear our roads in winter?

How have costs for clearing roads in the winter changed over time?

What is the overall condition of the roads?

What is the size of the road network?

Graph, 2005 - Number of Lane Kilometres per 1,000 Population

This graph shows the size of the road network in each municipality relative to its population. A lane kilometre is a continuous lane of road that conveys traffic in one direction, for example, a 100-kilometre road with two lanes equals 200 lane kilometres. At 13.7 lane kilometres per 1,000 persons, Ottawa is in the middle range among the single-tier municipalities. Major factors influencing the size of Ottawa’s network include the city’s large geographic size and its population.

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What is the volume of traffic on our main roads?

Graph, 2005 - Vehicle Kilometres Travelled per Lane Kilometres (Major Roads)

This graph compares the volume of traffic on the roads in the OMBI municipalities. It shows the number of times (in thousands) that a vehicle travels over each lane kilometre of road. Ottawa is near the median, indicating that half the municipalities have relatively more traffic per lane kilometre while the other half has less. The large rural component of Ottawa’s geography has an impact on the result as it contributes to an increased number of lane kilometres. Generally, this measure is also affected by the size of the network and the average commuting distance for residents.

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What does it cost to maintain our roads?

Graph, 2005 - Operating Costs for Paved (Hard Top) / Unpaved (Loose Top) Roads per Lane Kilometre

This graph shows the operating costs for maintaining paved and unpaved roads in the OMBI municipalities. The cost is shown per lane kilometre. Operating costs are for surface maintenance such as sealing cracks or patching sections. They do not include costs for major repairs, winter maintenance, streetlights, and street cleaning.

Factors that influence operating costs include traffic volume, the condition of the road, and service levels. Ottawa’s operating costs for both paved and unpaved roads are lower than the median among single-tier municipalities. Note that Ottawa’s operating costs for gravel roads do not include the cost for gravel resurfacing. With this cost included, Ottawa’s operating cost for unpaved roads in 2005 would be $2,088 per lane kilometre, which would put the City above the OMBI median of $1,965 for unpaved roads.

The graph also shows that maintenance costs for unpaved roads are generally higher across the various municipalities than the cost of unpaved roads. The reason for this is that this measure does not include overall life cycle costs. Rather, it only includes certain operating costs.

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What does it cost to clear our roads in winter?

Graph, 2005 - Operating Costs for Winter Maintenance of Roadways per Lane Kilometre Maintained in Winter

This graph compares the cost of winter road maintenance in each municipality. Winter control costs include snow plowing, snow removal, ice control, combination plowing/salting/sanding, ice sanding, snow fencing, spring clean-up, winter drainage, winter patrol, winter standby and administration. Winter road maintenance does not include the cost of clearing sidewalks or parking lots.

Factors that affect winter road maintenance costs include:

  • The severity of the weather
  • The types of roads that are maintained
  • The service level standards that each municipality has for various activities, such as clearing snow and salting roads.

Each municipality has different combinations of factors that affect its costs.

At $4,224 per lane km, Ottawa’s operating costs for winter maintenance of roads are above the median of $2,652. A number of factors contribute to Ottawa’s winter operating costs:

  • Snow removal forms a significant portion of the cost in Ottawa. Ottawa removes a large amount of snow due to high levels of snowfall and cold temperatures, and engages in proactive measures to prevent ice accumulation on the road network during freezing rain events.
  • In late 2004, a series of severe winter events left Ottawa streets in icy conditions for a prolonged period of time. The impact on maintenance activities and response extended into 2005. Ottawa’s residential streets, which have snow packed maintenance standards, were particularly heavily iced during these events. Correcting such conditions required extensive use of equipment and material, which increased costs correspondingly. As a result, proactive measures were increased in 2005 so that roads and sidewalks could be returned to an acceptable condition within a reasonable time. Extreme and icy conditions are becoming more common in Ottawa and, in response, $4.5 million was added to the 2006 Operating Budget for winter road and sidewalk maintenance in order to provide supplementary measures to respond to extreme weather conditions.
  • Ottawa performs wind-blown snow control operations in rural areas consisting of the installation of snow fencing and purchase of corn windrows. Other single tier municipalities without a significant rural network may not perform these activities to the same extent.
  • Ottawa’s is located in a zone of severe winter weather conditions. This is indicated by our high level of winter precipitation relative to other OMBI municipalities. As shown in the table below, in 2005, Ottawa had one of the highest levels of precipitation.
  • Ottawa is located in a zone of increasing winter freeze/thaw cycles and freezing rain. The table below shows a mean winter temperature near the freezing mark and the highest amount of winter rain in 2005. Freeze/thaw and freezing rain conditions increase winter maintenance costs since ice build-up on roads and sidewalks require more intensive and costly response and treatment. The City is adapting to these climate-change induced conditions through the acquisition and application of new equipment and technologies.

Winter Precipitation (cm)

Source: Environment Canada

1. Snowfall includes all frozen precipitation such as snow and ice pellets
2. Rainfall includes all liquid precipitation such as rain and freezing rain.

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How have costs for clearing roads in the winter changed over time?

Graph, Operating Costs for Winter Maintenance of Roadways per Lane Kilometre

This graph shows how winter maintenance costs per lane kilometre in Ottawa remained fairly steady between 2002 and 2004 and then increased by 32% in 2005, subsequent to a number of extreme weather events. In addition, a review of the City’s road inventory resulted in a reduction in the number of lane kilometres officially reported. This artificially increased the costs relative to published results from previous years.

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What is the overall condition of the roads?

Graph, 2005 - Percentage of Paved Lane Kilometre Where the Condition is Rated as Good to Very Good

Paved roads are the roads with asphalt, concrete or composite pavement surfaces. It is difficult to draw a comparison with other municipalities as not all municipalities use the same rating method to determine which roads are in good to very good condition.

In the case of Ottawa, the graph indicates that 20% of the road network needs resurfacing or reconstruction. This is not to suggest that the balance of the road network is not in need of some level of repair, but that it has not reached a threshold where resurfacing or reconstruction is warranted.

Some of the key factors that affect the condition of the road include the types of roads in the municipality (whether they are local, arterial or collector roads), traffic volume, level of maintenance, and the severity of weather conditions such as freeze/thaw cycles.

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What is the City doing to improve road services?

The City is currently working to improve:

  • The overall delivery of its road surface maintenance and emergency activities
  • Monitoring and maintenance programs that extend the life of the roads and sidewalks

Improvement projects include the review of:

  • The financial accountability and management framework
  • The operational planning methods and procedures
  • The organizational structure for road surface maintenance and emergency activities

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