This week the weather conditions are milder, the roads clearer, and the Christmas shopping season is in full swing. Therefore many local residents are not thinking of how deplorable the highways were during the last cold snap. That cold snap was preceded in short order by an ice storm and a large dump of snow. That storm like the one before it left our roads snow packed, icy, and treacherous for days. Extremely dangerous road conditions prevailed for near a week.
It is little known, but the publicly available Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure maintenance contract states that unsafe snow and ice should be removed from travelled lanes (on Class A highways) within 90 minutes. All snow and ice removed from the travelled lanes within two days, and then beyond the shoulders within four days from the time of the last measurable snowfall. Additionally, in cases of extreme cold, slippery sections should be remedied immediately.
It is quite apparent that our road maintenance contractor – Mainroad Contracting – is regularly unable to live up to its contracted obligations. It appears to me that they regularly shortcut, and then fall down on meeting the specified requirements. This is not a new situation. This situation has been occurring for at least two years, and the evidence says that it has been occurring for much longer.
In December 2013, City of Fernie Mayor Mary Giulano stated: “For the past several years complaints have been expressed regarding the lack of road maintenance on Highway 3 by Mainroad (Contracting).”
In January 2014, Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett, went on record with respect to Mainroad, saying: “I just feel like I have heard this before, last year, and the year before that” and “too many years Mainroad has struggled to keep up with road maintenance.” These quotes indicate that this is a known, ongoing problem that is long due a resolution.
Recently a Facebook group entitled ‘Take Back East Kootenay Highways’ was created to highlight these problems, and to organize to create a solution.
There are now more than 1,500 members in this group, with membership throughout the East Kootenay. From Elkford southwest to Moyie, and north to Invermere. Members include amateur and professional drivers, mine workers, medical professionals, expectant mothers, and senior citizens. Also, some former employees of Mainroad and other highay maintenance contractors; and some retired drivers from before the maintenance of our highways was privatized.
There is a great deal of anger towards Mainroad’s lack of service.
The group has already been instrumental in the publication of numerous articles in the press about the condition of our roads. Additionally, a petition to request the removal of Mainroad as our highway maintenance contractor, and to conduct a review of contract enforcement, has been formed, and is currently circulating.
The members of this group, and the community at large understand that we do not live in a tropical zone. We need vehicles in good repair, with good winter tires, and we need to drive to road conditions. However, we are still entitled to safe roads (particularly days after major events) and to quality service from our hired contractors.
The responses from Mainroad to this public demand for better roads has been largely irrelevant and arrogant.
“Mainroad Contracting says they are doing the best job possible on the highways with what they have” and “if the province gave them more money they could possibly clear even more of the roads.” (December 5, B-104 The Drive).
At the end of the day Mainroad bid on, and accepted, the contract for road maintenance in the East Kootenay. They were fully aware of the environmental and road conditions of this area when accepting the contract and “challenging conditions” are largely irrelevant.
The B.C. Goverrnment pays Mainroad the agreed upon amount (with yearly adjustments for labour and fuel price changes, and changes in highway priorities etc.). Mainroad must provide the service they agreed to provide within the amount that they bid. No excuses.
The issue of the deplorable road maintenance in the East Kootenay is years old, and is certainly not going away.
To MLA Bill Bennett, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, and to the British Columbia government: Your time to act is overdue.