Winter road maintenance causing concerns
The Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) board of directors Dec. 6 unanimously agreed to have a letter sent to authorities in charge of highways maintenance, expressing concern over the lack of proper winter maintenance of highways in the region.
Letters will be sent to the Ministry of Transportation & Infrastructure (MOTI) and Mainroad Contracting, with copies going to Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett and Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA Norm MacDonald expressing concern, with emphasis on the Elk Valley.
The emphasis on the Elk Valley stems from City of Fernie Mayor Mary Giuliano who expressed concerns to Bennett concerning the recent condition of the highways in the Elk Valley in a Dec. 2 e-mail.
“For the past several years complaints have been expressed regarding the lack of road maintenance on Highway 3 by Mainroad (Contracting). At one time four – four employee crews worked in our area to make sure the roads were clear and safe for travelers. Today, there are four part time people, two from Fernie, one from Jaffray and one from Marysville and one manager full-time who lives in Fernie,” Giulano noted in her correspondence to Bennett.
“Last week the roads were so icy from Cranbrook to Elkford that several vehicles were off the road both morning and night, and no gravel or maintenance crew was to be seen at all. Yesterday, there was no highway clearing of slush, making the highway so dangerous that several accidents happened; one resulting in a young mother losing her life, and two of her kids in critical condition in a Calgary hospital and the father and one child here in hospital. At 4 p.m. the roads were still not cleared of snow. This morning vehicles were off the roads again and still not one maintenance truck was seen from Fording River to Fernie, despite the bad conditions with all the snow is falling and although the radio said crews were out, I have been told this information from people on the roads both yesterday and this morning and last week so I know it is not hearsay or just anecdotal,” Giuliano wrote.
“There are more accidents resulting in cars off the road than ever before. This of course is due in some part to the many more vehicles on the road but mostly to the fact that since the highways became privatized the bottom line prevails over the safety issue; witness that the number of crews and workers has been cut to less than a quarter of what it used to be,” she noted, asking Bennett for help on the matter.
A few hours later, Bennett told Giuliano he contacted the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure and was told there were “some failures” in the Elk Valley the morning of Dec. 2 and the area manager “was not pleased with the performance of Mainroads. The contractor had more than enough equipment out to manage the situation, it was however poorly organized and managed. The ministry is addressing this with them.”
Bennett reported MOTI is “aware of the challenges this year and they promise they are working to address them. There have been some management and organizational adjustments within the company, that may be some of the challenges they have had. I just feel like I have heard this before, last year, and the year before that,” Bennett stated, adding MOTI also acknowledged “there have been some challenging weather events in the past couple of weeks.” Chief among them a light snowfall and rain, a warming and melt and then a rapid drop in temperature over the entire region.
“This was very difficult to manage. The ministry was traveling through the area shortly after the challenges and the roads were maintained very well, they believe, a fast recovery by the contractor.
“The loss of life yesterday was a very tragic event. The ministry was on site and participated in the response. The roads were slushy, but it was snowing heavily; very wet snow. Many of the drivers were driving to the highway conditions, traveling at slow speeds. I am advised that the driver attempted to pass some vehicles and backed off. Shortly after this he attempted to pass again, with the tragic results we are now aware of,” Bennett replied to Giuliano.
“I know this is very serious stuff for all of us. I will stay engaged and do everything I can do to ensure Mainroad and the ministry is taking steps to provide better service this winter in the Elk Valley. I do believe the ministry leadership are very concerned,” he concluded.
Both MOTI and Mainroad officials will also be invited to the January 2014 RDEK board meeting to discuss the board’s concerns.
Keeping with highways safety, the regional board also unanimously agreed to have administrative staff pen a letter to the RCMP, requesting detachments to increase police presence on highways in the East Kootenay to help encourage appropriate winter driving habits.