Due to harsh winter weather conditions, the roads and highways in the East Kootenays have been more difficult to maintain. The issue has been brought to the attention of the City and Mainroads, the contractor responsible for maintaining the roads in the Elk Valley.
The province contracts the maintaining of highways in the East Kootenay to Mainroads, who in return, subcontracts some of the work to local operators, Mow and Snow.
“Basically as part of our contract we have, some of the small sidewalk cleaning and small snow removal stuff, that for the most part is time sensitive and the goal is to have that work done, as part of spec in the contract and expectations in the contract, so that’s why we hire a sub to help with it,” said Alan Sander, General Manager for Mainroad East Kootenay.
Last week, The Free Press published a Letter to the Editor regarding the state of the sidewalk on the West Fernie Bridge. In relation to the letter, Sander said Mainroad’s aim is to have the roads and sidewalks cleared within a day of the last snowfall.
“The expectations are pretty simple from the last snowflake falling, I believe it’s 24 hours to have the sidewalks cleared,” said Sander. “In this particular situation, from what I have learned, the sidewalk had been cleaned and then the road crew removed some more slush and grime from the road that ended up on the sidewalk. They didn’t let Mow and Snow know that it had been done so they were unaware that it had to be re-cleaned, which they were made aware of the next day and then it was done.”
The 24-hour window between snowfall and road clearing can fall into an area of debate. As Sander explains, if it starts snowing when crews are clearing the roads, it can blur when the roads are expected to be cleared.
“In most cases, the spec is we have 24 hours after the last snowflake falls and then you get into some gray area of discussion. If it starts snowing again, when is 24 hours? The objective is to keep the sidewalk as safe for the people as possible. Not saying there is never going be an oversight,” said Sander, adding that there is a factor of human error.
A group of East Kootenay citizens who are concerned with the road conditions have organized a protest outside of Bill Bennett’s Cranbrook office. As of press time, the protest was set for Jan. 20. Bennett has come out in support of Mainroad and the protest is against the province awarding Mainroad with the contract for the area, which is up for renewal this year.
“We live in a democracy and people can express their thoughts and beliefs, but the reality is what some people expect us to do exceeds what we are hired to do,” Sander said in relation to the planned protest. “Just a simple comparison is if you go buy $20 worth of gas, are they going to give you $25 worth of gas? You’re going to get $20 worth of gas and that is just the way it works.”
Sander said that along with a spattering of complaints, he has heard positive comments about Mainroad’s service this year.
“Talking to other people that lived here in prior years, they tell me that the road conditions in the Elk Valley this year far exceed what has been there in the previous years,” he said. “We live in the mountains, there is always going to be a little bit of water melting some way or coming across the corner from the high side so there is always that somewhat of a false sense of security when they see black roads and the unfortunate thing is that accidents happen when the roads are bare and black.”
“You can’t have Vancouver road conditions in the East Kootenays,” continued Sander. “It would be nice if we could but it’s not feasible.”