MTO boosts highway class for snowplow maintenance

MINDEMOYA—The Ministry of Transportation (MTO) has not reduced its level of standards for road maintenance on Manitoulin Island, in fact they have made changes that will provide even quicker service especially in winter maintenance, says a representative of the MTO.

“First of all, there has been a lot of rumours circulating that we have changed our standard on roads-winter maintenance, which is not the truth,” stated Pierre Lalonde, maintenance superintendent, northeastern region with the MTO, at a Manitoulin Municipal Association (MMA) meeting last week.

“A positive aspect for Manitoulin Island, is that a little change did occur,” said Mr. Lalonde. He explained, “most roads on the Island are a class four or five, which means they would normally be plowed every 10 hours for each route (under class five). But for Manitoulin the plow circuit times for the roads classified four and five we have designated them under class three, so the plow circuit time is class three (3.3 hours for these class four-five roads) and our contractors are held to that.”

Mr. Lalonde was in attendance along with Bruce Sedgwick, MTO area contracts engineer, Dayton Burlarley-Hyland, and Steve Therrien, both of DBi Services.

DBi Services, the area maintenance contractor, has an 11 year contract (with the MTO) for Manitoulin which began June 1, 2012 and ends on May 31, 2023.

Mr. Burlarley-Hyland, vice-president of technical services with DBi Services explained the company, which is originally based in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, was founded in 1978 and grew through the 1980s, moving some of its operations into Canada in 2001, becoming a Canadian-based company as well. He pointed out the company has 1,500 employees and 60 offices in the US, Canada and other areas.

“We will be celebrating our 35th year in business in May, 2013,” said Mr. Burlarley-Hyland. “Eighty percent of the people that worked for the previous contractor in the area are with us now, so we have a very experienced staff that has been doing this work for a long time in this area. And we are looking forward to being here for the next 11 years.”

Derek Stephens, a Central Manitoulin councillor said, “last year there were a couple of incidents at the Mindemoya dam due to drifting snow over the roadway providing for no visibility for drivers, and it was closed to traffic, with the traffic being rerouted. But our roads staff didn’t know about this until after the road had been closed and it caused a dangerous situation for drivers. It is something that needs to be looked at, as in one incident someone got stuck and cars were stranded, and even the fire department had to be called in.”

Mr. Lalonde noted, “at the Mindemoya dam we acknowledge the winds are strong, and our roads crews have strict guidelines to maintain the area maintain no matter what the weather conditions are. As for communications, maybe we need to look at this again to make sure this type of thing doesn’t happen again and everyone is clear the road has been closed.”

“There was a lack of communication with our roads staff on this incident,” said Adam McDonald, a Central Manitoulin councillor. “This was a very serious incident. We are willing to work with you, but we have to have better communications between yours and our roads crews.”

“Absolutely, communication is a main thing,” agreed Mr. Lalonde.

“Is there another way to monitor the dam, and maintain it? The present system isn’t working when the winds are strong and it is snowing,” said Mr. McDonald. “What can the municipality do to help rectify the situation, such as snow fencing being put up?”

“The additional guard rail, seems to be a major problem,” said Assiginack Reeve Brad Ham.

“It has created another hazard,” said Mr. Lalonde. “We will look at this closely, to see if we could put a snow fence, or something else in this area, to help keep the road cleared and provide better visibility during inclement weather.”

“You mentioned the circuit time to have plowing and sanding done on each route on the Island. What are the requirements as far as plows being out when snow has fallen?” asked Mr. McDonald.

“The plows are out when there is one centimetre (about one inch) of snow having fallen,” said Mr. Lalonde. Spreading of sand/salt is to occur within 30 minutes on the arrival of a storm he said, noting if contractor crews are not out in the specified time outlined in the contract, the contractor can faces significant monetary fines. “We monitor all of this very carefully, and the contract fines are stiffer than they have ever been before. Our families travel the highways as well and we want them to be as safe as possible, for everyone.”

Wes Bentley, a Gore Bay councillor noted, “Manitoulin Island is a bit of an anomaly, you can have white out conditions at Kagawong and it’s clear in Gore Bay. Where does this all get measured, when weather conditions can be different at all points in between?”

Mr. Lalonde explained the MTO contractor is on 24 hour a day patrol. “Our crews have a lot of local knowledge and use many resources at their disposal to determine weather conditions in each area.”

While the professional standards classes are based on traffic volumes, Mr. Sedgwick said, “On Manitoulin Island most of the roads are low traffic areas and most highways are classed as four or five. However, these highways are needed to access schools, hospitals and other emergency services and is the main reason the class for four-five highways has been bumped to class three, “so Highway 542 and 540 for instance are maintained the same as Highway 6 and Highway 551.

Paul Skippen, a councillor for Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands (NEMI), said, “something Manitoulin Island is lacking in a major way is when we send our kids out of buses on days when none of us should be leaving the house. I know our local school board trustee Larry Killens has campaigned for buses not to be out on the road in bad conditions, and that there needs to be better communication to indicate and tell people when the roads are not good to travel and that buses shouldn’t be running.”

Mr. Lalonde said the MTO doesn’t have the jurisdiction to close-cancel school buses, this falls under the Sudbury Student Services Consortium and the Rainbow District School Board, although the parties do contact the MTO as to road conditions.

Tom Sasvari