Columbia Shuswap Regional District directors are taking their concerns regarding winter road maintenance to the next level, but change may already be on its way.
A statement from the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure on April 25 suggests concerns about snow clearance and de-icing have been heard. Improved road maintenance contractor oversight is one of the winter preparation and maintenance enhancements the ministry is promising for the winter of 2018/2019.
“Also, the ministry constantly monitors contractors to ensure standards are being met, and our staff are out 24/7 during winter storms to ensure compliance. When new maintenance contracts are signed this year and next, the standards will be higher and the maintenance contractors will have to adjust their businesses, equipment and personnel to meet them,” the statement reads.
A new maintenance contract will be signed for the eastern part of the CSRD on Nov. 1 and for the western portion on April 1, 2019. According to the ministry, the new contracts will specify a more proactive approach and a quicker return to bare pavement after a snowstorm.
Contractors will have to return major highways to bare pavement within 24 hours of the end of a snow storm as long as the temperature is less than -9 C, making de-icing chemicals safe and effective to use. The old standard for clearance was 48 hours. The clearance standards for rural roads, which are the main concern for the CSRD board, are also improving.
The ministry classifies roads based on their traffic volume and function from class A to class E, with class A roads being the first priority for clearance.
Class B highways, those with lighter traffic volumes than the major class A routes like the Trans-Canada Highway, will be returned to bare pavement within 36 hours, down from 72 as specified in the current contract.
Side roads maintained by the province are classed C, D or E; while they will not chemically de-iced like the highways, snow clearance patrol frequency on all but the least-used roads will be increased. On class C roads the patrol frequency will be specified as eight hours in the new contract; it is currently 16 hours. The frequency for class D roads will also be halved down to 12 from the previous 24 hours. Class E road patrol frequency will remain unchanged at 36 hours.
Although contractors may be held to a higher standard with upcoming contracts, the CSRD directors who represent rural areas made it clear that this winter’s service was simply not good enough.
The board voted to submit a resolution, stressing its position that snow and ice removal services in rural areas are deteriorating, as a late agenda item at the Southern Interior Local Government Association convention, currently underway in Revelstoke.
The resolution states deteriorating road maintenance is creating a public safety issue by making it difficult for emergency vehicles to access rural roads and creating unsafe conditions for motorists and pedestrians.
Electoral Area C South Shuswap director Paul Demenok said he thinks its important to address the state of the roads this winter.
“I received quite a number of calls and emails from residents concerned with safety issues and even concerned with being able to get out of their driveways,” he said.
Rene Talbot, the director for Area F, said he is still getting calls and emails complaining about roads near Falkland this winter and thinks the service provided by the road maintenance contractors is definitely in need of a review.
Area B director Loni Parker echoed her fellow directors’ statements.
“I agree this has been a really tough winter, but there really is no excuse for the lack of adequate maintenance in my area, Rural Revelstoke – There were rural roads that were not plowed at all for three days,” she said. “Those folks that were on those roads, some of them elderly, would be in a dire situation if they needed an ambulance after three days without it being plowed.”
Rhona Martin, board chair and Area E Malakwa/Rural Sicamous director, also noted a decline in the standard of snow clearing services received in recent years.
“We’ve had some good years and this year just happened to be one of the ones that wasn’t so good,” she said.