Last week, Mainroad, the Ministry of Transportation, the City of Fernie and members of the public met at the Park Place Lodge to discuss the conditions of the roads and inquire as to whether or not they’re meeting the required standard.
This is the second year of their seven-year contract in the area. Compared to Mainroad’s contract last season, some things have changed. The maximum acceptable accumulation of snow on major roads is less, and the time allowed to get these roads clear has been shortened. Also, seven crews and yards were consolidated into five. Four yards have been closed, and two new facilities have been built. These yard locations are now Cranbrook, Yahk, Elko, Sparwood and Fairmont. New plow routes have been established for A, B, C class roads. New Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure standard have been set pertaining to response times on these roads. There has been an introduction of tri-axle units, and an increase in liquid use. There is a new snow desk (central command centre for major events), a new communications centre and a new weather forecasting provider.
Recently there has been much talk, particularly over social media, about the lack of responsibility concerning Mainroad performance. This stems from pressure that the company received last winter.
“There is a bit of a misconception that the standards were relaxed or reduced; that isn’t the case,” said Geoff Gwynne, Operations Manager for Mainroad.
Mayor Giuliano reiterated some concern from residents in West Fernie, who said that the pedestrian access on the West Fernie Bridge was not being plowed, and that it was difficult and dangerous to walk to town.
Mainroad admitted that this section is part of their contract, and thanked Giuliano for bringing this up.
Mainroad said that the standards dictate this area, being on a Class-A road, should be taken care of within 24 hours after the weather event.
“That may be something we need to sharpen up on, because the focus tends to get onto the travel portion of the road,” said Gwynne.
“There are quite a few people who walk there,” said Giuliano.
“Yes and if that’s the case we’ll make sure that gets dealt with,” replied Gwynne. “I don’t want to see that continuing.”
Mayor Giuliano also raised some recent concern from locals that Cokato Road was not being plowed in a timely manner.
“I’m wondering, because it’s a school bus route, shouldn’t it be looked at daily?” she said.
Mainroad said that the standards for their patrols dictate that during a weather event, Cokato road is to be maintained every eight hours. Prior to a weather event, the road must be maintained every 16 hours. This is what is set out as acceptable for a Class-C zone, which Cokato road falls under.
“What I need people to understand is, we maintain to the standards,” said Gwynne. “We try our best to exceed them, but I need people to understand that there are standards, and what they are.”
Standards are set based on the class of the road, and this is dictated by traffic counts and surveys. A Class-A road has 5000 or more average daily traffic. A B-Class road is between 1000 and 4000 daily users. Class-C roads are school bus routes. Class-D roads are residential areas, side roads and rural areas. Class-E roads are irregularly-maintained routes.
Gwynne said that major roads [higher priority zones] are taken care of first.
“There are times in major events when we need to spend our time on the A’s and B’s, and we have to use all the time that the standards allow. We don’t like doing it, but that is what the standards allow,” said Gwynne. “We don’t stop until we get everything caught up. But we do need people to understand and be patient on lower class roads – we’re not ignoring you, we just have to be other places right now.”
Class-A and B roads will be plowed first, one lane in each direction. Class-C roads are next, Class-D roads with hills or traction issues are next, and then the remainder of the Class-D roads. In a large storm event, Mainroad says they will usually not make it to the Class-E roads, as the allowable snowfall on these is 25 cm before plowing is mandatory.
D-class roads are allowed 15 cm of snow, and 72-hours response time after the weather event ends.
“If you live on a D-class road and there’s 10 cm of snow, and you haven’t seen a plow for two days, we’re still in standard,” said Gwynne.
A patrol can involve a pickup truck driving down the road to report conditions, or it could be a plow truck.
Gwynne led a presentation, explaining the different aspects of road maintenance.
Mainroad is responsible for maintaining roads owned by the Ministry of Transportation, and are therefore obligated to meet the standards set by them. They do not perform maintenance on municipal road networks, forest service roads or private roads. Standards set by the MOT are province-wide and not specific to a certain area.
The Elko yard performs road maintenance from Jaffray to the Ski Hill, as well as Hwy 93 south to the Montana Border. Fernie, Hosmer, Sparwood and Elkford fall under the Sparwood yard area, which spreads from the Fernie Ski Hill to the Alberta border including mine access roads.
Giuliano noted that during a recent storm, a tree came down in Cokato and the City of Fernie was called upon to take care of it. The tree fell on Cokato road, but outside of Fernie’s border.
“I believe it’s in your section. So is this something that is looked at as well?” asked Giuliano.
In circumstances like this, Gwynne encouraged residents to call 1-800-665-4929 and report the issue. According to Mainroad, this is the fastest way to get a hold of them.
“If we’re aware of the problem, we’ll get out there as soon as we can,” said Gwynne.
He also said that residents are responsible for driving to the conditions.
Safe Winter Driving Tips
Mainroad encourages residents to leave themselves extra time, and that the speed limit is for ideal conditions, not winter conditions.
Also, do not use cruise control on winter roads.
Make sure you and your vehicle are prepared for winter driving.
Use good winter tires. Carry plenty of washer fluid as well.
Leave plenty of room around snowplows and spreader trucks.
Carry an emergency kit on trips.
To check conditions, visit these three websites: Drivebc.ca, Shiftintowinter.ca, and Weather.gc.ca/canada_e.html