Snow clearing operations for local provincial roads, including highways and rural sideroads, have been challenged by recent extreme snowfall events, but crews are working around-the-clock to clear roadways.
Mainroad North Island Contracting LP holds the provincial contract for snow clearing of about 3,600 kilometres roads in ‘area three,’ which broadly extends from Parksville to Port Hardy, but also includes Denman, Hornby, Cortes and Quadra Islands. The company has 45 snow clearing units operated and supported by over 100 staff. Mainroad’s parent company has highway snow clearing operations throughout B.C. and Alberta.
During snowstorms, the company operates with all available resources, said Chris Cowley, Mainroad’s North Island general manager.
“Our operators during these events are usually working 12-hour shifts, and their equipment is moving around the clock,” said Cowley. “Anything we have access to is moving.”
Cowley said recent snowfall events have been “extraordinary.”
“We see events like this pretty rarely,” he said. “In ‘96 we had a similar scenario and then in ‘71 — it’s not very common.”
The company operates on a six-level priority basis (from “A” to “F” priority roads), with major highways, such as Highway 19, being the highest priority (priority “A”).
“While it’s snowing, we will be focused on those roads and keeping them clear,” he said. “When the snow stops, we’ll tidy them up and start moving down the list.”
On the priority list, “B” roads are main arteries, “C” roads are school bus routes, and “D” routes are side roads.
“We get the ‘D’ roads last, which some people wish we got to a little sooner,” he said. “But the reality is we have to work down the list of priorities — that’s the main goal for us in every event. The time it takes to get to a side road is indicative of the time it takes to clear everything else first.”
It is difficult for the company to estimate when they are able to clear a road down the priority list, because the company starts back at the top of the priority list each time it snows.
“As we’ve seen lately, if it starts snowing again, the clock resets and we head back to the ‘A’ routes,” said Cowley. “That causes an issue for some people — our inability to get to their roads as soon as they would like.”
The company’s resources are designed around average events — meaning extreme events stretch their resources.
“In these extraordinary times, we just appreciate everyone being patient,” he said. “We will get there when we can, and we’re sparing no resources, that’s for sure.”
The City of Campbell River uses a similar priority system for its seperate snow clearing operations targeting municipal roads.
There have been reports that some local stores are low in commercial ice melter and salt. But both Mainroad and the City of Campbell River say they are still well stocked.
“We don’t have a supply issue for salt at all,” said Cowley, who noted Mainroad is also a supplier of road salt.
In many cases, rather than salt, sand is used instead because areas that are salted are susceptible to refreeze. The company however deploys salt brine, which helps plowing by stopping snow from bonding to the underlying ice layer, he said.
The City of Campbell River has used more salt and sand-salt mixture this year due to ongoing freeze and thaw conditions, said Drew Hadfield, the city’s director of operations.
Additional salt was delivered to the city in the last week of December, which will get the city through the balance of its winter road conditions, he said. The city makes its own brine, which reduces the use of salt and sand mixture used directly on roadways, except where extra traction is needed.