February 20, 2010
FEATURE | Roadbuilding & Surveying
B.C Road Builders and Heavy Construction Association president has seen a decade of change
There was a time when today’s network of roads, bridges and highways in B.C. simply didn’t exist.
It wasn’t in prehistoric times. It was recently.
A several decades ago, a trip to the Cariboo required traveling the Fraser Canyon.
This was no small feat.
The winding narrow road was built on a series of timber and plank platforms jutting out over about the meanest looking river on earth.
In many places, meeting another vehicle meant somebody had to back up.
Now obsolete and being replaced, the Port Mann Bridge and Number One Highway simply didn’t exist.
Neither did the Massey Tunnel, the Iron Workers’ Memorial Second Narrows Bridge or a long list of other roads and bridges today’s population takes for granted.
For some 150 years, the history of British Columbia’s development parallels the history of its roadbuilders.
For more than 60 of those years, those men and women have been represented by the British Columbia Road Builders and Heavy Construction Association.
At it’s helm for the past decade has been Jack Davidson.
He is a rarity these days – a born and raised Fraser Valley boy.
For many years his parents owned and operated a shake and shingle mill at Silverdale, near Mission, B.C..
Davidson grew up there and after secondary school he went on to earn a Diploma of Technology, Technical Management from BCIT.
Following that, he took over the family mill for some years, went on to have a financial interest and management role in an Abbotsford bakery and eventually found his way back to the shake and shingle world.
He took the job of managing the B.C. Shake & Shingle Association.
He stayed with that group for seven years until his current position with the roadbuilders opened up.
“Associations are really where my interests lie,” he said.
“I like building relationships, talking to government and trying to solve industry problems.”
For someone who likes working with government and building relationships, Davidson is certainly in the right position.
The roadbuilders and heavy equipment operators are fairly unusual members of the construction family.
Unlike the rest of the industry, they really have their own ministry.
They work as a tight team with the provincial ministry of transportation and highways. To a large degree, their business is stable because of that relationship.
Other sectors of construction don’t have a capital and rehabilitation program that’s largely the same year after year, Davidson pointed out.
Government projects normally represent about 50 per cent of his members’ work, he said.
The other 50 per cent comes from the private sector.
Unfortunately, recent history hasn’t been normal.
When the world’s economy recently tripped and fell on its face the private sector portion of their work dried up real fast.
Since then stimulus programs brought in by both the federal and the provincial government replaced 25 to 30 per cent of the lost revenue.
The big concern, however, is what will happen in 2011 when the stimulus money runs out.
Roadbuilders are counting heavily on the private sector picking up so there are high rise excavations to create, subdivision utility trenches to be dug, streets and cul de sacs to be paved.
There is a lot going on at the association and there is no place the green revolution is not being felt, Davidson said.
It very much involves roadbuilders and heavy equipment operators.
Members are researching less polluting forms of asphalt production.
Other endeavors include the development of cleaner diesel engines.
Also fairly straight forward are ongoing attempts to develop acceptable asphalt that can be laid at lower temperatures.
Davidson discussed an interesting program that is aiming to take some of the macho out of pick-up truck ownership.
Officially it is called “right sizing the fleet”.
In a society that threatens to choke to death on its own politically correct baffle gab Davidson is refreshingly plain spoken.
“In the old days – and not that long ago – the bigger the truck you had the higher you were up the chain,” he said.
“So if you had a big diesel truck with leather seats you were probably a project manager. And if you had a little compact truck you were probably just a worker.”
There is, of course, a problem with this picture.
“The guy with the big truck probably never put anything in his box,” he said.
“And the guy with the little truck was likely doing double loads.”
The trick is to somehow flip the system.
One company manager and a director of the association has gone straight from his big pick-up to a small car.
“It’s a cultural thing,” said Davidson.
“And it is starting with our directors and will spread from there.”
It’s obvious that 150 years later the roadbuilders of the province are still determined to lead the way.
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