On Apr. 22, the BC Government announced Mainroad Contracting won the highway maintenance bid for the East Kootenay region. The Ministry tendered the contract and numerous companies applied, including two companies from outside of Canada. Mainroad was ultimately awarded the contract, which lasts for seven years and is worth $16.7 million on an annual basis.
Mainroad has been the target of criticism in recent years, most notably for their lack of maintenance during the winter season. The Ministry says it has heard the publics concerns and has addressed this in the new contract, which includes new specifications and an additional half a million dollars.
“I would like to say that we have heard you, the public, and because of that we have changed the specifications, primarily in winter to improve the specifications,” said District Manager of Transportation for the Rocky Mountains, Jack Bennetto. “We’ve also added some money to the contract of half a million dollars almost. Some of the statements we heard from the public is we are not paying enough for this.”
Kootenay East MLA, Bill Bennett, said he is happy with the Ministry’s decision because it does have new specifications that Mainroad must meet.
“I am satisfied as local MLA that Mainroad can and will do a good job. I know there have been issues in the past where I have raised publically and also directly with Mainroad and I think Mainroad has addressed those issues,” he said adding the additional funds will help.
“If it was just a half a million dollars a year and that was the only difference, and we were staying with exactly the same contract, I wouldn’t be very happy, but with the differences to the contract plus the half a million dollars a year, I do think we have got reason to be optimistic about improvements.”
Some of the new specifications include increasing the capacity to their fleet, making their equipment more efficient, outfitting their vehicles with an Automated Vehicle Locator System (AVLS), which will allow for GPS tracking on all of their vehicles and increasing the use of anti-icing liquids by 250 per cent.
“If you compare how we are operating currently to where we are going with this, we are increasing the capacity of our fleet by 14 per cent. One of the key components of that is the spreading of materials and treatments of the roads and winter sand application,” said Mainroad CEO, Peter Ashcroft. “What we are doing is increasing the capacity of our trucks by making them larger and using tri axle trucks. They are spending more time on the road as opposed to being back in the yard refilling.”
The increase of anti-freezing chemicals is based on a pilot project that was tested in the Elk Valley in recent winter seasons. Ashcroft says the increased use of these chemicals will allow Mainroad to provide anti-icing applications down to minus 20 below.
“Certainly it really allows us to pre-treat the roads well in advance of the weather conditions,” he said. Using that experience in the last couple of winter seasons, we recognized the merits of chemical applications. We are now confident it is a process that works and we will apply it all over the contract area with confidence.”
The tracking devices that will be installed in each truck will allow for the Ministry to oversee where the trucks are at any given time. Bennett says this will help with complaints, as they can ask Mainroad for information on why a truck may not have been in service, as an example.
According to Bennett and Ashcroft, a positive factor of this contract was working closely with the Mainroad employees, who are represented by the BCGEU union.
“The union local that has worked with Mainroad for the last many years will be the same union local, the same group of people, and it is my understanding that they work very collaboratively with Mainroad on the bid itself,” said Bennett. “I think it is a positive thing when you got a group of workers who have been part of the bid, are well aware of what the new standards are and the new features of the contract, they are going to be happy that their company got the bid and the contract and they have work going forward for the next seven years. I think that when there is a contented happy workforce, that makes for better service.”
Ashcroft echoed Bennett’s sentiments.
“[We are] really delighted that we were able to work closely with our employee group to come to a collective agreement for the contract term. It provides a lot of stability. They are extremely committed and dedicated in the work they do,” he said.
Another feature of the new contract is the implementation of the Snow Desk, a 24-hour communication channel that allows for the public to make comments or complaints about the service. Bennetto hopes this will be the first resource used when it becomes active in the fall.
“That is a new approach rather than just a communication centre and that is the doorway we would like the public to go to first,” he said.
Bennett wants to remind the public that no amount of highway maintenance can guarantee road safety.
“Where we live here in the Rocky Mountains, we have weather that changes, it is unpredictable, the temperature changes that come with difference in elevation. We are never going to have roads guaranteed to be safe at certain times of the year with the weather that we do have. So people have to accept the responsibility to drive safely.”
The new contract comes into effect on Sept. 23.