Politicians with the regional district voted to send a letter to the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure requesting a review of highway maintenance standards during a monthly board meeting last week.
The motion to author a letter was proposed by Fernie mayor Mary Guiliano, who also included a request for a report on traffic accident data that has occurred on local highways and side roads.
While there has always been debate over the state of highway maintenance in recent years, the issue has flared up one again following a tragic fatal collision that claimed the lives of a local Cranbrook couple and an Edmonton man near Yahk a week ago.
The discussion was started by Stan Doehle, the director for Area B — the south country around Jaffray and Lake Koocanusa — who initially proposed the review of highway maintenance standards.
Doehle suggested that the board ask the province to consider bringing highway maintenance back as a government-run service as opposed to a bidding process through a contractor.
“I think its time for that review,” said Doehle. “We have a new government in place and if they can have at look at…should we put highways back under the ministry of transportation or continue with a contractor system? It’s a very good question.”
Part of the issue around highway maintenance is that the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure sets the maintenance standard, which the contractor is meeting, says Doehle.
“The standards out there — the contractor is meeting the standards that are set by the ministry,” said Doehle, “but I think the big question out there is [the] Ministry of Transportation used to look after our roads and it was a government contract and I think it should go back to that way because it’s an essential service for this province.”
The maintenance contract for regional highways and side roads has been held by Mainroad East Kootenay Contracting since 2001. According to the service area, which stretches from Brisco to Goatfel to Alberta and the U.S. border, Mainroad is responsible for maintaining 3,673 lane kilometres for winter and snow removal operations, as well as other duties in the spring and summer.
The company signed a seven-year contract in 2016 to continue maintenance on regional roads, tweaking their operations to meet new specifications by investing in larger equipment, relocating maintenance yards increasing the use of anti-icing liquid chemicals and improving public communication.
Doehle argued that there was more resources and equipment when highway maintenance was provided directly by the ministry instead of through a contractor.
“The ministry standard, to start with, we had a ministry yard in Jaffray, we had one in Fernie, we had one in Sparwood. Now, we have one in Elko, so the standards are lower, there’s less people, less equipment on the road,” he said.
“In all fairness to the province, we should have a look at it and put it back to where it was, because the highways are an essential service to keep this province moving ahead and for the safety of the general public.”
Requesting the data on traffic accidents would be helpful to gauge whether incidents are increasing or decreasing, while it would be interesting to know if social media is skewing the public perception on the frequency, or lack thereof, of motor vehicle accidents, Doehle added.