DAWSON CREEK, B.C. — After the Ministry of Transportation announced tougher criteria for highway maintenance contractors during the winter months, Peace River South MLA Mike Bernier says that those new criteria won’t often apply in Northeast B.C, and he wants the Ministry to look at more options to help areas of B.C. that fall outside those requirements.
In early April, the Ministry announced new rule changes that will go into effect next winter, including increased fines for commercial vehicles that don’t chain up when required. Among those changes include new requirements for the 26 of 28 provincial highway maintenance contracts that are due to be renewed this year.
The changes include that contractors will be required to get Class ‘A’ highways returned to bare pavement within 24 hours of a winter weather event ending when temperatures are above -9 C, halving the time from the old standard of 48 hours. Contractors will also need to increase patrol frequency to 90 minutes on a Class A highway during a winter storm, compared to every four hours.
Bernier said that while those changes are great for areas on Vancouver Island and in parts of the Southern Interior, they don’t have areas of the province where the temperature seldom climbs above the -9 mark in winter.
“We need to not have a cookie-cutter approach, but flexibility on these contracts to allow our maintenance crews to do their jobs,” said Bernier. “We need to have more opportunity, which means more money unfortunately a lot of the times, for the companies to have more equipment and more people. But you need to have flexibility in the tools they use to keep the rules clean. Up here we don’t have many options other than throwing sand – which some people say are rocks – on the roads, and we have salt but that only works at certain temperatures.”
He pointed out that in Alberta and other jurisdictions road crews use different salts that are calcium-based, which bring the melting point of ice lower than that of normal salt – which is known chemically as sodium chloride. According to The Globe and Mail, road crews in Williams Lake used a beet juice mixture to deice roads during a pilot project four years ago.
Bernier added however that the onus is not solely on road contractors or the Ministry when it comes to making roads safer, and that motorists also need to do their part.
“To be blunt, people need to also drive to road conditions. We need to do as best a job as possible to have the roads safe, but we also have to realize that there are times when there’s going to be ice and compact snow no matter what we do, and people people need to be more careful in our region. It’s a combination, we all have to do our part.”