Public takes winter maintenance concerns to open house

Mainroad East Kootenay Contracting discusses new contract, hears complaints from public at open house.

Mainroad East Kootenay Contracting held an open house in Cranbrook to educate the public about their operations and to hear feedback.

Mainroad East Kootenay Contracting held an open house in Cranbrook to educate the public about their operations and to hear feedback.

People concerned with the winter and summer maintenance of local highways got the chance to make their voices heard on Tuesday during an open house organized by Mainroad East Kootenay Contracting.

The seating gallery was full at the Prestige Rocky Mountain Resort, as Mainroad staff outlined their forecasted operations during the winter and discussed a new contract that was signed with the provincial government last April.

Changes include reducing the number of yards throughout the region from seven to five, however, new equipment — such as larger tri- and tandem axle trucks — and a ‘Snow Desk’ tracking system will help fully utilize resources, says Geoff Gwynne.

“It went really well,” said Gwynne. “I was glad to see all the people come out. They had good questions. They put us on the spot a few times, but that’s okay, that’s why we’re here, so I think it was a successful day.”

The open house began with a presentation by Gwynne and Mainroad staff on their planned operations under the new contract before moving to a Q&A format.

Concerns raised included the closing of the Kimberley yard and response times during snowfall, the spread of knapweed and other invasive plants and route-specific complaints on non-major roadways.

A new fleet will allow trucks to carry 14 per cent more material, whether it be winter abrasive, granular sodium chloride or liquid chloride. The ‘Snow Desk’ will be able to monitor the fleet in real-time when the trucks are out on the road and can divert resources accordingly.

Mainroad is also using a new weather-modelling method, the Road Weather Information System, which plugs weather data into a computer program that will the company hopes will more accurately predict weather patterns, so that there can be a more proactive, instead of reactive, response to extreme weather events.

Other changes also included reclassifying how routes get prioritized; highways, for example, with high-volume traffic, are rated the highest priority and Mainroad has certain standards they have to meet before, during and after snowfall.

The province sets the maintenance standards, which Mainroad has to fulfill as part of its contractual responsibilities — a point that came up again and again.

“The province sets the standards, they set the level of maintenance they expect,” said Gwynne. “They also set the maximum amount that any contractor can bid. So how these contracts work, is we have to come up with a slightly better price than the one they set as their maximum, or we have to convince them we’re going to do a better job than the other contractor or a combination of both.”

The new deal, signed in April, awards $16.7 million to Mainroad for the next seven years, which boosts annual funding by an additional $500,000 from the old contract.

Following Tuesday’s open house in Cranbrook, the company was in Fernie on Wednesday for another session, as Mainroad’s coverage extends from the Alberta/U.S. border and covers Highways 3, 93E and 95, stretching up north to Vermillion Crossing and west to just past Yahk.

“One of the reasons we do this, is we get the feedback from them, and we can also convey to the public what they can and can’t expect from these contracts and reasonable expectations,” said Gwynne.

“And we heard a few today where there were some issues where people thought we dropped the ball and we’ll be looking into that and if correction is warranted, then there will be corrections made.”

Invasive weeds was a topic raised by a few people in the gallery, a message which Gwynne says the province has heard.

“The invasive plant thing, that is something the ministry has also made us aware of,” he said, “and it’s also part of the new contract, there is some language that speaks to dealing with that, when there wasn’t before.”