Revelations regarding a hidden 2014 technical report authored by Golder Associates with respect to low pavement friction data on the Red Hill Valley Parkway (RHVP) in Hamilton, Ontario, are continuing by the hour. According to the latest news provided by the Hamilton Spectator Newspaper, former Hamilton Director of Engineering Gary Moore provided seemingly misleading information at a December 2015 public works meeting when asked about concerns from drivers about the slipperiness of the RHVP’s road surface. The Spectator suggested that further misleading comments were made as part of a 2017 Spectator investigation into the numbers of collisions occurring on the RHVP.
The Spectator indicated that Moore referred to friction tests that were also conducted by the Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO). The Spectator had requested that data from the MTO as far back as 2016 but was told at the time that the study was a “commercial confidential document”. While the apparent hiding of the Golder Associates report has raised much alarm, this latest position of the MTO continues to demonstrate that the problem with secrecy over roadway safety issues is larger than that.
The latest trend in transportation secrecy involves the use of commercial entities to perform various public functions. As a result, the work of those commercial entities are said to be confidential and not publicly available. But if these commercial entities are performing the functions that would normally be provided by the government the argument can be made that their activities, reports and functioning must be made available to public scrutiny.
The issue must be whether the many millions of trips taken every day, on any and all roads, by any an all citizens in Ontario, requires that the public be informed of potentially fatal safety problems. This is a much broader issue than the simple hiding of one technical report. The MTO conducts numerous studies and pays for them through the public’s taxes. Yet those reports are only available to be seen by a select few persons whose identities are not even known. Similar reports are likely prepared by other government agencies and municipalities some of which may contain critical information about the safety of the roads on which the public travels. It could be accepted if the safety condition of roads was a matter of national security that must be kept away from foreign governments and terrorists. But clearly such an argument is ridiculous. Many of these studies are requested for matters of safety or efficiency of the public road system and have no relevance to national security. Thus the need to keep these documents secret must be questioned.
The broader question relates to how the public’s safety may be manipulated by keeping the public in the dark. Clearly there are monumental difficulties and complexities in a modern society ranging from health, housing education etc., that require a delicate balancing of societal systems so that we do the best we can, with the resources we have and the contradictory needs that we have. Keeping matters like the safety of our roads a secret causes an unneeded headwind on the proper functioning of our society.