Half a dozen people showed up at Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett’s constituency office on Wednesday morning to protest the conditions of East Kootenay highways. Affiliated with the Facebook group ‘ Taking Back East Kootenay Highways’

Half a dozen people showed up at Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett’s constituency office on Wednesday morning to protest the conditions of East Kootenay highways. Affiliated with the Facebook group ‘ Taking Back East Kootenay Highways’

Highway statistics, and Mainroad verdict

MLA, Highways District Manager, discuss local road maintenance

  • Jan. 21, 2016 8:00 p.m.

Barry Coulter

Public criticism of the state of maintenance of regional highways — especially during these past snowy months — prompted a press conference Wednesday, held by Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett and Jack Bennetto, District Manager at the B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Highways, to review the statistics and performance by Mainroad, the company with the contract to maintain regional highways.

“I’ve been the MLA for 15 years, every year you get some complaints about the roads and the maintenance of roads,” Bennett said. “This year, up until Christmas, I’ve had fewer complaints about road conditions and maintenance than any other year I’ve been MLA.

“The evidence we have here today indicates that we’ve actually had considerably fewer accidents than five years ago. I’m not sure about fatalities. The evidence would indicate that our roads, after considerable investment into our highways, our roads are actually safer today than they were 10 years ago.”

Bennett said there is no evidence that it’s been a particularly bad year in terms of maintenance, or that the contractor is doing an unusually bad job. “They get graded and scored on a regular basis by the Ministry. They get fairly high scores, they’re not perfect, every once in a while they fail to do something that’s the best practice.”

Bennetto also spoke to Mainroad’s performance, this year and over the past few years.

“I know we’ve had some challenges with them, and we work with them constantly. We monitor them.

Bennetto said that last year there were some reductions in their payments because of that process.

“We’re happy with the work they’re doing this year. We monitor them regularly — this year there have been more than more than 300 on-site audits or reviews. And they are meeting our expectations, especially on the primary roads.”

Bennetto said Mainroad is meeting the standards set by the Ministry of Highways.

“We’re happy with the work they’re doing this year. We monitor them regularly — this year there have been more than more than 300 on-site audits or reviews. And they are meeting our expectations, especially on the primary roads.”

Bennetto said Mainroad is meeting the standards set by the Ministry of Highways.

“We’re generally happy with the performance of Mainroad’s delivery. Our monitoring reports indicate that they’re very close to 95 per cent within specification. So the five per cent is where we’ll continue to work with them.”

The District Highways Manager reviewed some of the data for accidents in the region.

“Over the past years, up to 2014, the incidents on the (regional network of highways) — summer and winter — have been reduced by half. There were close to 200 10 years ago. Now annual incidents on the highway are about at 100 a year.”

Bennetto said these numbers include fatalities, although didn’t he have specific numbers, in terms of averages.

The Highway maintenance contract is up for renewal. Bennetto said their has been interest in other companies, as well as Mainroad, in bidding on the contract.

“We’ll not know until we receive their bids — the closing date is Feb. 18. We’ve had a lot of people looking around, some international companies, at least one from Alberta, one from Ontario, and certainly in B.C. — the road builders that deliver road maintenance throughout British Columbia.”

Even while the press conference was taking place, a small protest organized by the group “Taking Back  East Kootenay Highways” was taking place in front of Bennett’s Cranbrook office, expressing unhappiness with “with Bill Bennett’s delay in response to our concerns regarding highway maintenance and the growing complaints as well as lack of highway maintenance we are receiving this winter.”

“This group wants to return the maintenance of provincial highways back to the public sector,” Bennett said. “They’ve never accepted the decision that was made decades ago to allow the private sector to maintain the highways in B.C. That’s not going to happen. It’s the most efficient, cost effective way to maintain our highways, to allow competition. If we went back to the public sector, it would cost in the billions of dollars to try to develop a road maintenance structure like what we have on the ground today.

“But what we do need to do is make sure our roads are safe for people to drive on, and right now the evidence would indicate that they are.”