Al Sander

Al Sander

Flash freeze a challenge for road maintenance: Mainroad

On Friday, Mainroad East Kootenay responded to concerns and complaints from the public about the conditions of highways over the past week.

Winter road conditions this week have been challenging for motorists, as a thick layer of ice has stuck around on most of the area’s highways.

It’s also been a source of frustration for those who feel the contractor in charge of highway maintenance is not doing enough to ensure safe roads.

On Friday, Mainroad East Kootenay responded to concerns and complaints from the public about the conditions of highways over the past week.

Al Sander, general manager for Mainroad East Kootenay Contracting, said they take the concerns raised by the public seriously.

“We were aware of the impending weather before it came last week,” Sander said. “We were fully prepared. All of our equipment had been deployed.”

Sander said the service levels haven’t changed and there is the same amount of resources as there were in past years.

“It’s been a challenging week for weather conditions in many parts of the province,” Sander said.

He said crews have utilized close to twice the amount of abrasive product compared to normal, and last weekend they used over 500 truckloads of sand and 50-60 truckloads of salt.

“When you get a flash freeze like we had, you just can’t go out with a grader and peel it off; you just can’t go out with a plow truck and burn it off with salt,” he said. “Once you get past -6 (degrees) salt is a useless material; sand won’t stick because it’s too slippery. It’s a really difficult situation.”

The East Kootanay fleet is made up of 43 plow trucks and chemical application trucks and six graders, as well as mechanics to keep those vehicles going. They also have contractors they bring in if they need more graders.

He said weather patterns are changing as well.

“I talked to guys that have been here for a long time and worked in the business. They’ve never seen Novembers like the last two — the rain and the flash freezes with it. I’m not sure if this is an anomaly or a change in the weather pattern.”

He said most of the operators have a lot of experience and these type of weather patterns are a real challenge.

Sander said the process of letting the drivers know what they need to do is done on a shop-by-shop basis.

“There are road managers that review the process,” he said. “We’re also under a strict audit process under the Ministry. There are levels of what we’re supposed to do and how often we have to patrol and how much snow there has to be before we start plowing. Those things are all within the contract.”

He said one of the main differences between the roads here and in Alberta is the contracts.

“There’s an inherent difference on expectations and specifications on contracts in the two provinces,” he said.

Sander said the contracts here were decided eight years ago.

“They are in the process of working on the next contract and what that looks like when that comes up, we’ll see,” he said. “The highway maintenance contracts are always a tight bid. They always have been, they always will be. Doesn’t matter if you’re in B.C. or Alberta. It’s a very competitive bidding process.”

The roads in B.C. are classified into Class A, B, C and down.

Class A has a four hour rotation for patrols, Class B an eight hour rotation and Class C an 18 hour rotation. Class A has an allowance of up to four centimetres of snow accumulation before it needs to be plowed, while Class C has an allowance of up to 10 cm.

If the temperatures are colder than -6 degrees the crews continue to sand — and scrape if possible — to make the roads as safe as they can, he said.

He said over the past week the Ministry has been doing audits on Mainroad’s work in this region. The Ministry has two inspectors that patrol the roads in the East Kootenay.

“We were in spec,” Sander said. “We were within standard with what the contract negotiations are. I know that doesn’t satisfy everybody, but that’s what we do by in the context of the contract and what their expectations are.”

Sander said if the public wants the standard to change, it will have to lobby the government to change it.