THUNDER BAY — They look like the world's longest mini-putt golf greens.
Artificial turf was installed by the City of Thunder Bay in the boulevards on both sides of Balmoral Street as part of the reconstruction of the road.
Now it's also being laid down in four traffic islands at the new roundabout under construction at Edward Street and Redwood Avenue.
So far, the results are encouraging.
The work along Balmoral started in 2016.
The city has already completed the stretch between William Street and Alloy Drive.
Balmoral will eventually be rebuilt all the way north to Beverly Street.
City project engineer Mike Vogrig says maintaining natural grass along an arterial road presents a unique challenge.
"We have significant issues with any sorts of boulevard vegetation dying, just due to the amount of salt that has to be used for road maintenance during the winter. Since arterial roads have higher traffic, they tend to get more than your average residential street."
Vogrig explained that in many instances, the city installs a hard surface such as asphalt on the boulevard. Concrete or paving stones may also be used.
In designing the Balmoral Street project, officials decided to investigate other options.
Vogrig said "Once we went through a number of different scenarios, having seen it used in other areas, we thought this was a good candidate for using artificial turf on the boulevard."
Drainage and stormwater was a significant consideration in the Balmoral Street corridor, which previously had open ditches.
"We're going from big open ditches to underground storm sewer infrastructure....The benefit that artificial turf gave us was that it's permeable. Any bit of assistance that helps with stormwater in the area was a benefit when we were designing the project."
Vogrig said that because artificial turf allows for infiltration, rainwater seeps into the ground rather than enter the storm sewer system.
He said artificial grass is more expensive than asphalt but less costly than permeable concrete or other hard surfaces.
"We had an arterial where we were worried about both aesthetics and drainage, and that seemed to meet all the criteria."
Vogrig said the city is pleased with the results to date.
"This is like a trial run. It seems to be holding up fine. There's minimal maintenance, and it seems to be okay."
Wherever weeds find a way to grow alongside the turf, a crew must be assigned to remove them.
However, the material stands up well to streetsweeping machines which are sent out to clean up dirt and debris once or twice a year when the street is also swept..
Vogrig said any future applications on other roads will be project-specific.
"If we get into another street where we have concerns about drainage, grass kill and winter control, it's another tool in the toolbox that we can look at," he said.
The turf the city uses is different from the artificial grass in sports stadiums, in that it's not nearly as thick.