Elk Valley prepares for winter: Mainroads introduces towplow

Ministry of Transportation declares Highway 3 from Fernie ski hill to Cranbrook a level A priority.

Highway 3, from the ski hill to Cranbrook is now a level A priority. This coming winter will see more winter patrols along Highway 3 between the Fernie Ski Hill and Cranbrook. This is due to the sections upgraded ranking, from its B ranking to an A ranking by the Ministry of Transportation (MOT). This will mean that Highway 3 from the Alberta/B.C. border to Cranbrook is now all under the class A rank.

“An A level is more than 5,000 vehicles a day. A B level is between 1,000 and 5,000. The government does traffic counts, the ministry tells us what they are and then they grade the roads based on the traffic counts,” said Alan Sander, General Manager for Mainroad East Kootenay.

Mainroad has recently started a new contract with the government of British Columbia. The upgraded rank will mean that the company will increase its cycle times to match the section between Fernie and the B.C./Alberta border.

“Basically, it is an increase of cycle times. An A rank will get more cycle times in a storm and more patrols. This leads to less accumulation. More information and the expectations for different roads can be found on the MOT website,” said Sander.

Mainroad has also purchased some new machinery to replace, assist or enhance their older fleet.

“We have a lot of new equipment, a lot of bigger equipment in the Elk Valley. From Fernie to the Alberta border we will basically be using what is called a towplow. It is a trailer we pull behind a regular truck, but as it swings out it will plow two and a half lanes.

The idea is that we can do the main lane just as easy, but get the passing lanes in one go and get the snow off the road easier,” said Sander. “Also this year, all of our new trucks have wing plows and we will have some new tri-axles. About 50 per cent of our fleet will be new. Every time you start a new contract you build into your bid the price of some new equipment.”

Normally, these types of government contracts are for 10 years. The recently signed contract is for seven.

“It was a little tougher to work in those costs on this contract, as it is only seven years; a plow truck is a third of a million dollars,” said Sander. “This was a first for the shorter contract, I think this was a case where they put this out at a length that was still biddable for the contractor but short enough for the government to see what it’s like after two years and see if they need to make changes. We are kind of the test pilot.”

Sander, like much of the Elk Valley was enjoying the warm November temperatures last weekend, but he warns that winter conditions are right around the corner.

“Originally, the forecast was for an early severe winter. But they were wrong. The next ten days look pretty nice. I wouldn’t mind if it stayed like this for a little bit. It is better for everyone They can get more into the winter if it takes a little longer to get here. That is way better than getting caught off guard.”

Sander also wants to remind the public to drive according to the conditions and be aware of safe driving practices this coming winter.

“Give the plows and workers lots of room, if you’re behind a truck and you can not see his mirrors he can’t see you. When we are plowing we will generally try to get the plow to pull over wherever it is safe to do so and let traffic by.

Also, to drivers – never pass a plow truck on the right, it never ends well. For us, if we lose a truck it’s not good. A plow truck is not something we can just send to the garage to get fixed in two days. If you write one off they are almost impossible to replace on short notice. Make sure you get your winter tires on, winter is coming and as nice as it is now it will be here soon enough,” he said.

Mainroad will run their winter operations from Sparwood, Elko, Cranbrook, Yahk and Fairmont this winter.