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REPORTING · 1st February 2014
Walter McFarlane
Kitimat City Council met with a group of individuals responsible for keeping the winter highways clean on Monday, January 27th. Present were Dan Beaulac, NCC General Manager, Lori Wiedeman, District Manager for the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, and Peter Lansdowne, NCC Operations Manager. The topic of the discussion stayed was Snow Clearing.

Mayor Joanne Monaghan expressed there were a lot of people complaining about the highway road conditions, particularly after a day when there were 20 cars in the ditch. She explained the road was upgraded in 2007 from a Class B to a Class A. She asked: “Is it going to be kept any better on highway 16 between here and Terrace?”

Monaghan was told the details about how the road classification in changing and underway but has not been released yet. They are not in a place where they can discuss this. Monaghan was told currently, the difference between a Class A and a Class B highway was minimal. A Class A highway will be ploughed after 4 Cm of accumulation while a Class B will be ploughed at 6. Each classification is the same around the province.

Councillor Phil Germuth inquired about Tire Requirements for the highways. He explained the RCMP came out a few years ago and told people they had to have certain tires, and then it was relaxed. Wiedeman told him the recommendation is the snowflake tire, but Mud and Snow tires are acceptable right now. She added there is a speed limit review which is looking at tire classifications and wildlife impact.

Councillor Mary Murphy asked who monitors the road conditions and whether or not a call had to come in before they would respond. Lansdowne replied they patrol up to 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, depending on classification and time of year. They track the weather. However, they cannot be everywhere at once.

“We don’t know when precipitation is going to start, if it starts as rain, will it go to snow? How intense the precipitation is going to be. We routinely hear from forecasters, one of the hardest things for them to predict is the amount or intensity of precipitation,” said Lansdowne.

Murphy asked if they accept information from the public when they call in and complain or just the RCMP who call after several incidences.

“We encourage people to call our office if they see issues, if they have complaints. We have a 1-800 number that’s 24 hour, live operator, public number in the phone book that people are going to get a hold of,” said Beaulac.

Lansdowne explained he follows up the calls, often to get more information.

“Many of the reports are, I believe the most recent one was, ‘It’s not pretty out there.’ It isn’t helpful in the terms of what the weather condition is and what the road surface condition is. Typically, people describe things as being slippery or in need of sand. We like to get back to them to find out what they are seeing. Is it a road condition, a visibility condition, or a surface condition, to get the best response plan,” said Lansdowne.

Germuth asked if they use the highway cameras to monitor the weather. He was told they do this. Councillor Rob Goffinet asked if they had equipment in Kitimat. They were told they do have equipment in Kitimat, although sometimes, it takes 45 minutes to deploy.

Beaulac added they have equipped some of their supervisor trucks with some salt, enough for 25 km of pavement. They are used for quick response used by the people who monitoring conditions on the highways.

Councillor Edwin Empinado asked about what guides their response. He was told the Ministry Specifications for Maintenance is what manages their response to snow. These are set by traffic volumes and usage. The people who look after the highway speak to the major users and try to fit their schedule to the times when the road is going to be used.

Murphy stated the highway is busy from 5 am to 8. She emphasized the need for a Highway Counter because the highway is well used. She was told there are going to be traffic counts this year and there are a few different locations where they will be done this summer.

Monaghan asked why the sand was being put down in the middle of the road. It was explained this was to cover an area of both sides of the highway so a vehicle could maintain two tires in the sand. The sand also tends to get spread by the traffic.

After a brief discussion over the size of the aggregate, Monaghan asked when they use salt over sand. She was told they use salt to prevent freezing and create a brine which will allow for the release of compact snow when the storm is over. Lansdowne explained when the storm ends at a warmer temperature than when it starts is ideal for salt use and the warmer winters which Kitimat has been experiencing have made the salt effective. They try to get this off the road as quickly as they can once the compact releases because it creates a hazard.

Monaghan had other questions from the public. She asked why the blades were not all the way down on the road. Beaulac explained he did not know and expressed if they were called right away, they could get more information on this because it does not get cleaned down to the pavement. For safety reasons, the plows run on shoes and are set up a half inch above the road. Lansdowne added there was one call they got when the plow was damaged.

Monaghan referred to her police scanner for her next question, on the day when it was really cold and there were 20 cars in the ditch. She stated there were a number of times when the RCMP asked where the maintenance guys were. According to Monaghan, the officers could not get out of their cars because it was too slippery.

She was told this does happen because of changing temperatures and areas where the sun does not hit the road. On the day in particularly, the truck was on its way, being redirected from another location.

Monaghan asked the delegation not to blame the drivers in the media because it was not fair. She suggested they go in the media and do a program on why they do these things which people keep asking her about.

Lansdowne said it is not their fault, but road conditions change every 800 metres, around a bend or in a spot of shade. He stated it is about keeping people aware, be through signs, message boards or campaigns.

Monaghan suggested an open house. She was told they do this but hardly anyone shows up to them. They put on one meeting and no one showed up to it. The Mayor suggested they do this by not clearing the roads for two days.

There were no further questions so the delegation from the highways left and the meeting progressed.
Hwy 37 S
Comment by CEM on 6th February 2014
The problem is with the driver's. Just because the speed limit says 100km...does not mean a person has to drive that speed if road conditions are not good. Driver's have their radios/CD's on, heaters blasting away, not paying attention to road conditions. I have drove that road for over 20 years and just see driver's not driving to road conditions.
Oh Open House...
Comment by A voter. on 1st February 2014
I note that Mayor Monaghan suggests a Open House be held, to invite discussion by the public. The purpose of this meeting would be to

a) accept public input and give fair consideration to that? Make changes, addressing the public's voiced concern?

b) hear the public's input and the just ignore it?

Just like our District Council, then?

Two public meetings said...DO NOT ALLOW PTI in the location that they and Mr Oviatt arranged. Ignored.

Many presentations asking Council to re-word plebiscite and make it a simple yes or no.

I have to presume that Mayor Monoghan and Council endorse this sort of behavior. So, suggesting that an Open Hose, inviting public input on our winter highways clearing and safety is just a waste of time.