Canadian Rental Service

Snook’s Look: A rock solid idea

By Andrew Snook   

Features Business Intelligence

In the world of infrastructure budgets, city planners and project managers need to start thinking more about an often-forgotten but vital resource for new construction and maintaining current infrastructure: close to market aggregate. Of course, that option is becoming a luxury that many projects taking place in major urban centres may no longer have in the near future. Between the value of land close to city limits, the current housing shortages, and constant political pressures from NIMBY groups, quarries and sand and gravel pits are being pushed further out to remote areas. While many residents love this concept, the reality is that it comes at a significant cost to everyone including you, the equipment rental operator who has to deliver and service fleets in these far-flung locations. 

The reality is that infrastructure requires aggregate – a lot of it! That includes roads, bridges, sidewalks, residential and commercial developments, schools, hospitals, and much more. And how much aggregate do you need for major infrastructure projects? Well, according to the website, the average brick home requires 250 tonnes of aggregate (12 truckloads). The average school needs 13,000 tonnes of aggregate (650 truckloads). One kilometre of a six-lane road uses 51,800 tonnes of aggregate (2,590 truckloads). One kilometre of a subway needs 91,200 tonnes of aggregate (4,560 truckloads). The Greater Toronto Area alone consumes more than 50 million tonnes of aggregate annually. And that number is only increasing.

How does this affect the equipment rental sector? If you are delivering and servicing equipment at a distant quarry, the time and fuel costs for your drivers and mechanics go right to your bottom line (unless you can pass the costs along… good luck with that). Here’s a more subtle effect: the more expensive infrastructure projects become, the less projects municipalities can allocate to their budgets. Construction associations are well aware of this issue and have commissioned some great reports highlighting this problem over the years. 

Let me take you back to a comparable example from an old story I wrote back in 2012. This particular report was highlighting the need to have a solution for the excess soils being generated during the construction of the Metrolinx Eglinton Crosstown Light Rail Transit Project. The city of Toronto didn’t have a place to store this soil, and it couldn’t just bring the soil to a neighbouring municipality (there are a lot of rules related to soil management), so one solution was to truck that soil to municipal landfills that were willing to take it. Some of these landfills were as far as hundreds of kilometres outside the city. The estimated costs for trucking the soils was between $65 million and $100 million, and this was when diesel was averaging $1.25 per litre at pumps across Ontario. Now add in current prices for diesel and other transport costs, and what you get is a pretty scary number for transporting a single item off a jobsite. These kind of transport costs would be comparable to bringing in aggregate from quarries and pits that are significant distances away from jobsites.


With quarry licenses becoming harder and more expensive to obtain close to market, the costs for aggregate transport will only continue to increase, and this can generate huge costs to municipalities. The reality is they only have so much money they can allocate towards infrastructure each year, and these added costs end up meaning less projects being built and less roads and bridges being maintained each year. 

Better long-term solutions need to be found to keep aggregate resources close to urban markets. That way, municipalities can get the most out of their infrastructure budgets, their residents can get more of the infrastructure they need, and general contractors can keep their employees and subcontractors busy, which means more equipment on the ground and tools in their hands. It’s a winning solution for all parties. 

Andrew Snook is a long-time construction writer and former editor for Rock to Road: Canada’s Aggregates & Roadbuilding Magazine and On-Site: Canada’s Construction Magazine. 

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