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Saturday, July 2, 2022
Anatomy of a rainbow crosswalk: Why does it cost so much?
Niagara College installed its own rainbow crosswalk in 2019. (Brittany Carter)
Niagara College installed its own rainbow crosswalk in 2019. (Brittany Carter)

The Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake has budgeted $15,000 for a Pride crosswalk in town, and some NOTL residents are wondering why the project comes with such a high price tag.

"$15,000 for paint? I'll do it for $300 and save the taxpayers a lot of money," has been the sentiment of some of the comments on social media.

As with so many things, something so simple is a lot more complicated.

So, The Lake Report spoke to an expert whose company manufactures traffic paint to get a sense of why a rainbow crosswalk costs so much.

James Zhang, president of Polymight International Inc. in Brampton, said some paints last longer than others, and that's part of the cost.

For rainbow crosswalks, municipalities tend to use methyl methcrylate (or MMA) paint, which lasts about three to five years, he said. 

By comparison, normal road paint is good for about a year and sometimes needs to be touched up more than once annually.

Another option, which the town is considering, is thermal plastic paint, which Zhang said also lasts longer than traditional paint, but not as long as MMA paint.

Thermal paint provides coverage for about two years, he said, in comparison to the three to five years that MMA offers.

"MMA is the most durable stuff on the market," he said.

Zhang, whose company is in the process of being able to sell thermal plastic, recommends MMA paint for crosswalk projects. He said he's seen cases where the thermal plastic wore out too quickly.

Thermal is also more expensive, he adds.

"In general, (MMA paints) were designed at the very beginning for stops or for intersections where you really need to see the lines," he said.

"If you cross in the intersections and you see the zebra lines with the white bars in between, most of them are done by MMA."

Zhang said he has supplied paint to contractors that have done rainbow crosswalks in Ottawa, Toronto, London, Hamilton, Burlington and Blue Mountain.

But the real cost, he said, comes from the contractor. He said the MMA paint is a fraction of the cost of the installation.

"Typically, the contractor charges quite a bit to install it. I know our material is not that expensive, but the contractor can charge sometimes close to $1,000 a line, or bar. So one set of those rainbow colours, if it's seven colors, that will be $7,000," he said.

"But I know from a material standpoint, it's a fraction of that."

While the cost is marked up, there's a lot of labour involved as crews have to start and stop while waiting for colours to dry, pre-mark lines and tape them.

"It's not something you can do with one guy," he said. "So it's a labour cost and mobilization."

Asked about the town's $15,000 price tag, he said that's "not too bad if you put everything all together."

MMA is a two-stage liquid paint, like an epoxy, said Zhang, while thermal plastics are actually a powder coating that gets melted onto the road.

The Town of NOTL said it has also consulted an "industry expert contractor who regularly performs this type of work" and said he recommended thermal plastic.

"The contractor advised that they have completed similar installations for other municipalities, such as St. Catharines, Oakville, Milton and Halton Hills," the town said in response to questions from The Lake Report.

"The cost of implementing a permanent rainbow crosswalk varies depending on the style and material selected. The contractor advised that they use 'preform thermal,' a thermoplastic material, with an added anti-slip agent," a town spokesperson said in a statement.

"Thermoplastic is a polymer material that is more durable than regular paint and has extended longevity. This helps to ensure that the crosswalk is safe and lasts longer."

The town said while $15,000 is budgeted, it's only an estimate right now. The cost could vary depending on the project's scope, size and the materials used. 

As well, "in order to accommodate each colour, the crosswalk needs to be a little wider than typical crosswalks. The length is determined by the crossing distance between the curbs on each side of the intersection."

The location of the NOTL's rainbow crosswalk has not yet been finalized.

"A detailed quote could not be secured without the final location and complete specifications, so an estimate was used. Once a final determination is made for the crosswalk location, competitive quotes will be obtained from the market, and a final cost will be determined," the town said.