It’s going to be another year before new standards announced last week by the transportation ministry calling for increased winter road maintenance are put into place for the majority of northwestern B.C. highways.
That’s because requirements calling for quicker response times and more intense snow clearing will be included only when new maintenance contracts are negotiated.
So drivers in the Kitimat area using Hwy37 South and those in Terrace area on sections of Hwy16 both east and west of the city won’t experience those new standards until the winter of 2019-2020 because the current contract only expires next March 31.
It’ll be much the same for drivers in the Smithers and Hazelton areas using Hwy16 and north up Hwy37 North because the current contract for that area doesn’t expire until next Sept. 30.
As well, the current contract for the far northern stretch of Hwy37 North doesn’t expire until next July 31.
Drivers in the Prince Rupert area and for a portion of Hwy16 stretching east toward Terrace until the boundary where the Terrace area maintenance contractor takes over will, however, experience those new standards sooner because the current contract there expires Sept. 30 of this year.
Drivers in the Houston and Burns Lake will also experience the new standards this next winter because the current contract there expires Aug. 31 of this year.
“The new maintenance contracts, which will ensure a more proactive approach to winter maintenance and quicker return to bare pavement after a weather event, will require new or modified equipment and a significant change to an existing contract,” explained the transportation ministry in a statement.
“This would lead to substantial increased costs to the ministry, so there will not be a requirement for contractors to change practices while still executing existing contracts,” the statement continued.
As current contracts approach their expiry dates, the transportation ministry will set into place an open bidding process for interested companies.
The new standards for the new contracts call for a return to bare pavement within 24 hours of a snowfall ending for Class A highways, a designation that applies to Hwy 16 and Hwy37 South to Kitimat, when the temperature is warmer than -9C and when using a de-icing chemical is effective.
The current standard is a return to bare pavement within 48 hours.
And during a storm, the frequency of maintenance vehicles patrolling highways is to be 90 minutes compared to the current requirement of four hours.
The frequency of patrols is to increase to four hours compared to the current 24 hours when a storm is forecasted to occur.
Contractors will also have to use remote weather information systems to forecast weather events and then spread anti-icing chemicals before the weather turns bad.
The transportation ministry also hopes to reduce the number of cracked and damaged windshields by reducing the size of abrasive material spread on roads from the current 12.5 millimetre size standard to 9.5 millimetres.
Winter tire and chain requirements on some provincial highway sections in high snowfall areas will be extended from Oct. 1 to April 30 compared to the current date of March 31.
The province has divided highway and bridge maintenance into 28 contract areas.
These new standards will eventually apply to 26 contract areas.
The two remaining areas have already had new contracts negotiated reflecting the increased standards.