By Trevor Crawley
Black Press Staff
With the winter season underway, the annual debate over the state of highway maintenance is in full force, and so far, the contracting company has taken a beating in public circles over their ability to keep highways clear of ice and snow.
Earlier in the winter, during the first few snowstorms, Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett said Mainroad East Kootenay Contracting ‘failed miserably’ to keep highways and secondary roads clear.
“All hell broke loose in the public, understandably, and as is the case often, my office began to get dozens of complaints,” Bennett said. “I worked with the local MOT [Ministry of Transportation] office on a daily basis to ensure that we had enough inspectors from the ministry on the road to monitor Mainroad’s performance, complained to the minister and his senior staff in Victoria, and the ministry put a full court press on Mainroad to determine how they had failed so badly to deal with the snow and the ice.”
As it turned out, there were some equipment issues and availability issues with sand and brine for the new equipment, which Bennett says is not an excuse, but sheds light on why the highways were in unsatisfactory condition.
Bennett sat down last week with members of the public who are part of a Facebook group called ‘Keeping Mainroad Accountable’, as well as Ministry of Transportation officials and other concerned citizens.
“The purpose was to allow the group to make their own judgment as to whether the ministry understood how bad the maintenance had been and whether the ministry was taking the necessary steps to fix the situation,” Bennett said. “I think it is fair to say that the group left believing that the senior people in MOT regional office care as much as the public does about public safety and are taking very aggressive actions to make sure Mainroad gets its act together.”
While Bennett says he’s been told that Mainroad is working on solving some of the issues they experienced earlier in the winter season, he also says people driving the highways need to take some responsibility as well.
“There is nothing more important right now than making sure our roads are as safe as they can be in such a harsh winter,” Bennett said. “Not every accident that occurs is because of road maintenance. Drivers not driving to the conditions are still a huge problem, according to the RCMP. But the public has every right to expect good maintenance and we just were not receiving good maintenance the first few weeks of winter.”
The new $16.7 million contract, signed last April, included an extra $500,000 per year for equipment and trucks, while also clarifying standards for maintenance so the Ministry of Transportation could evaluate and penalize as necessary.
But Bennett isn’t afraid to take drastic measures if he feels he needs to.
“If the problems persist, I will recommend to the minister that the ministry get out of the contract,” Bennett said. “A radical approach I know, but if that is what is necessary, that is what we must do. It is up to Mainroad to prove we can trust the company.”