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Road conditions cause community concern

A vehicle passing a snow plow on Friday, January 3 between Elko and Fernie during a high snowfall event.  - T. Hynd
A vehicle passing a snow plow on Friday, January 3 between Elko and Fernie during a high snowfall event.
— image credit: T. Hynd

Mainroad East Koootenay Contracting (MEKC) holds the contract to maintain the highways and roads in the Elk Valley. Following rough road conditions in the area throughout the month of December, Elk Valley residents and visitors sent their complaints in the form of 26 letters presented to the City of Fernie during a regular council meeting in December 2013.

General Manager Jim Conley made a presentation before the Christmas holidays to the District of Sparwood and the City of Fernie outlining MEKC current staffing.

“If you know anyone who's looking for a full time job, please let me know,” said Jim Conley. “My staffing issues are not your problem, it's mine.”

One might say local governments did not agree as the District of Sparwood, City of Fernie and the Regional District of the East Kootenay have each written letters to the Ministry of Transportation requesting increased road and highway maintenance to be performed by MEKC.

“Elkford’s concerns were raised at the RDEK meeting and we supported the letter writing initiative,” said Elkford Mayor Dean McKerracher.

Mayor Mary Giuliano had received several complaints so she sent a letter to Mainroad East Kootenay Contracting on December 4 and copied Bill Bennett, MLA Kootenay East; Jack Bennetto, District Manager, Rocky Mountain District, Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure; and the Honourable Todd Stone, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure.

“The conditions of the highway concern me greatly and I do want to ensure somehow that real changes are made so that people can feel safer driving on them,” said Mayor Giuliano.

Then she reached out to Bennett.

“Too many years Mainroad has struggled to keep up with road maintenance,” said Bennett. “Having enough drivers and managers in place has been their reason for less than adequate road maintenance with a lot of turn over. It's clear to the Ministry the time has passed and their explanations are not good enough. If it means Mainroad has to pay more to compete with employers like the mines, then they'll have to. They have a contract to provide. I'm not interested in reasons anymore.”

Since the complaints were received, there have been reports that things are improving.

“I've heard it has improved from the mayor (of Fernie),” said Bennett.  “I'm onside with the mayors wanting to have safe road conditions.”

“We need clear objectives for improved road conditions, maybe new technologies for treatment, brine, wetted salt technologies, and road temperature sensors,” said Giuliano.

“We do hear excuses and reactive post-accident response so we know there is a problem but performance measurement is subjective and not auditable by citizens, so personally I believe the problem will return if there are no real corrections to the service specifications.”

The Ministry of Transportation responded to local government concerns.

According to Rocky Mountain District Operations Manager Gord Chudleigh, “There was some challenging weather systems this fall, ie heavy snow fall at -0 then quick drop in temperatures that resulted in a prolonged compact situation. Although this condition was well managed, people felt that compact highways were a sign of poor maintenance.

“The Ministry has temporarily doubled up on the man power that monitors storm events and maintenance in the Elk Valley,” said Chudleigh. “As it has been in the past, area managers will be in the Elk Valley at 4 to 5 am to monitor maintenance and highway conditions during an event. They also monitor the cleanup process over the following days.”

“After the extreme weather at the beginning of December we listened to public concerns about highway conditions and responded accordingly,” said Jim Conley.  “We’ve added additional drivers in both Fernie and Sparwood to supplement our regular scheduled crew during winter events and we’re also using social media to provide updates during winter events and get feedback from travellers in the Elk Valley. That feedback has been overwhelmingly positive so I believe the public appreciates the hard work our drivers are doing out there.

“Prior to the forecasted event on January 2, both our operations manager Geoff Gwynne and myself were in the valley to review strategies with our Elk Valley road manager and our yard supervisors. From what I’m seeing, our team is well prepared for this event and those in the months to come.”

Geoff Gwynne asked for the public to give the snow-plow drivers plenty of room and not to pass when they are plowing during a snow event.

“The first goal during a snow event is to clear a travel lane and spot sand on hills, corners and bridges.  In winter conditions, we do try to avoid damaging vehicles. We turn down the sand when there is oncoming traffic but we still have to sand hills, corners and deck bridges.

“Salt only works when it’s minus six or warmer. After that, we stick to using sand. Once the snow stops falling, the clean up phase begins as we clear the shoulders and smaller roads.”

Check Drive B.C. http://www.drivebc.ca before travelling and give yourself extra time to reach your destination if the road conditions are poor. You can also visit the Elk Valley Road Report Facebook page where travelers can post road conditions.

 

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