Road crews tackle big snow

CRS General Manager talks about what happened and how they are trying to keep up with icy highways

Naomi Larsen, Chetwynd Echo Editor

 

CHETWYND – Last week’s dump of snow in the Peace Region has kept Caribou Road Services (CRS) on their toes for more than a week.

But it wasn’t just the amount of the snow that has made removal and maintenance a challenge, it was the type of snow.

Allan Harwood, General Manager says if you’ve ever been caught in a snowstorm in Vancouver, you’ll know what he’s talking about.

“We’re hitting it with everything we’ve got,” he said. “It’s more a function of the temperatures and the circumstances of this last storm. What happened in this case is that we got a lot of wet sloppy – what I call Vancouver snow – that has a lot of moisture content.”

And then, Harwood said, the temperature quickly started to drop. He explained as soon as the air temperature drops below -6 and more importantly, when the surface pavement drops below -4, salt becomes less and less effective.

“It takes away one of our tools,” he said. “Below -7 it (salt) practically quits working. It doesn’t do any more good.”

When the roads are already wet and temperatures drop, the water on the road freezes. Combined with blowing snow from the sides of the roads and the continuous falling snow, ice builds up quickly.

At that point Harwood said they begin to use ice blades, a serrated plowing blade that cuts the ice off the road’s surface.

“While it’s not as effective as salt, it’s our next best tool to use,” he said.

CRS spends a large portion of their summer building up the sand reserves at their 16 winter stockpiles stations around the Peace. The sand is cut with between two and four percent salt to keep the giant piles from freezing. Harwood said the crush or screened sand is made to specification as per their agreement which is 12.5 mm minus. The sand is tested and the results are provided to the Ministry each year. In one year, CRS can stockpile upwards to 50,000 cubic metres of sand at those locations.

“A storm like the one we just went through and the icy conditions we’re going through sand like crazy,” he said. “I know that the Chetwynd yard in one day put out more than 40 loads of sand.”

Of course the best line of defense against snowy road conditions Harwood said is to be prepared for winter, slow down and make sure you have good winter tires.

“Plan ahead, give yourself time to get to your destination, drive to conditions and check DriveBC,” he said.

Since Nov. 1, Chetwynd RCMP say they have responded to 24 accidents on the highways around Chetwynd.

crs history

Caribou Road Services is a private company that was created from past Ministry of Highway employees from the mid 1980s. Harwood said they’ve been contracting to the province ever since. Their last maintenance contract was a ten-year tender that began in 2004 coming in at $13.4 million per year, with room for adjustments. They currently employ more than 120 people with 26 of those in the Chetwynd office.

Harwood explained the $13.4 million per year is divided into equal payments over the ten-year term.

“At the end of each month we get 1/12th of that payment and then from that we have to budget and do our work inside of that,” Harwood said, adding more than $6 million of that is for summer maintenance activities. “Like grading, brushing, mowing, pavement repair, ditching, culvert replacement, dust control, road stabilization, bridges the list goes on and on.”

What’s left is used for administration, overhead, the cost of insurance, bonding, all of the fixed costs and equipment. And after that the leftover money is put towards routine maintenance including dead animal removal, garbage pickup, road patrol, sanding, salting and plowing.

“All of those sorts of things come out of what’s left,” he said. “So to give a specific cost for winter it’s really difficult to do that, but it’s a lot of money.”

Locally CRS is responsible for Highway 97 and the surrounding Chetwynd subdivisions including but not limited to the Guillet, Kurjata, Dokie and Jackfish subs as well as Hasler. They are not responsible for in town. Their entire area – one of the biggest in the province – extends from the Mackenzie Junction in the Pine Pass to Tumbler Ridge, to the Alberta Border up to Peace River and just before Hudson’s Hope. All in all they cover more than 2,400 kilometres of road and 95 bridges.

Should drivers have complaints or concerns about road maintenance – at any time of the year, not just in winter – Harwood asks them to call the Chetwynd office during office hours at 250-788-2407. After office hours, the number to call is the 24-hour road hazard reporting number 1-800-667-2322.

“That is staffed 24 hours a day,” Harwood said. “It’s very important when people call in they give us very clear details.”

Information to give should include name and contact info in case they need to phone back and a reasonably specific location using either a crossroad or a landmark.

All phone calls are kept track of. Harwood said those call-in numbers can also be used for compliments too.

“We pass those onto our crews when we get positive feedback,” he said. “When you’re out slogging 10, 12, 14 hours a day trying to beat the elements – until Mother nature gives us a break – when those crew, operators and foremen hear their efforts are being appreciated it goes a long way.”

Harwood said sometimes he wishes people could walk a mile in their shoes as the job isn’t an easy one.

“Our crews are out there doing their very best,” he said. “If they (you) think there’s a better way of doing it…”

A copy of the Province of British Columbia’s 2003-04 Highway Maintenance Contract and Maintenance specifications can be found online at www.th.gov.bc.ca/ .