Winter Traction

Why Small Rocks, Instead of Sand

Home owners can treat icy sidewalks with sand, but on a slippery highway, whipping winds and passing trucks can blow away light material within minutes.

Instead, when there’s a need for extra traction, our maintenance contractors often rely on a carefully prepared mixture of gravel and crushed stone. The industry term for it is “winter abrasive.” The particles in this mix need to be heavy enough to stay on the road in a wind, large enough not to vanish under new snow or freezing rain, and yet small enough to keep the frustrating windshield chips and paint dings to a minimum.

Spreading Winter Abrasive

Spreading Winter Abrasive

The right balance between too light and too heavy depends on the type of highway. On main provincial highways, no piece of winter abrasive is allowed to be over 12.5 mm in diameter. That’s about the size of a Cheerio. Very little of the mix is allowed to be even that big, with most of the material falling between 2.36 mm and 4.35 mm in size. (Less-travelled paved highways use a larger mix with a maximum diameter of 16mm.)

How do our contractors make sure that they’re meeting these standards? Many filter their supply of gravel and stone by running it through a series of increasingly fine screens. Others use crushers that grind the material down to the proper size.

Now, you may be saying, this is fine, but what about the time a whopper of a rock cracked my windshield? That was no Cheerio! This has happened to us too, and it can be annoyance or a shock. However, screened winter abrasives aren’t the only rocks on the road. Rocks get washed from the roadside onto the highway, fall from trucks, or get knocked onto the highway by wheels grazing unpaved shoulders.

Your best protection is to keep your distance from other drivers, and if you do get a windshield chip, have it fixed right away.

Did you know?

  • If a rock strikes your windshield, the potential damage has more to do with the rock’s impact velocity than its size. An increase in impact velocity from 80 km/h to 110 km/h will almost double the impact energy and the probability of windshield damage. So to protect your vehicle: slow down and keep your distance!
  • On flat, straight highway sections, maintenance trucks may briefly stop applying abrasives to avoid spraying vehicles passing in the other direction. However, they can’t do this on hills and corners — these crucial areas must be treated.
  • Maintenance crews sometimes wet winter abrasives with a liquid brine to help it penetrate compact ice and stick to the road.

Tip!

  • Avoid passing a truck applying winter abrasives if you can. Staying back will protect your vehicle from flying winter abrasive, and you’ll be safer driving on the treated road. If you do need to pass, patience will pay off. Our contractors regularly pull over to let traffic pass when it’s safe to do so.

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32 Responses to Winter Traction

  1. Andrew Crane on December 15, 2013 at 1:28 pm

    Do you realise that the size of this material is causing massive damage’s to cars that travel the highways and side street’s in BC.
    From most common damage is windscreen and paint damage.
    My car has been damage by your product and ICBC will not cover this damage I was lucky and my private portion covered me but for the most part people’s insurance does not cover damages caused by your product due to the size used.
    This gravel product is like having some one shot at you with a pellet gun or throwing a rock at you at high speed do you not do test on this product before you went and used it???
    Pedestrian’s and motorbike riders are also facing damage’s to their bodies or eyes.
    So at the end of the season do we send our repair bills to the government because as stated ICBC will cover you and thus you have to replace the windscreen and pay your deductible or do you feel this is fare???? And then get a re-spray on the front end of the car due to your product damaging my personal property.
    Most new cars and truck are throwing these stones as they fit between the tires treads and then they dislodge and are catapulted at the car or truck behind them (this is not the fault of the driver in front)some times they fly out the side and hit pedestrian’s.
    Even if cars or trucks are fitted with mud guards it still realises and hits something.
    To call this product SAND is totally incorrect its a small GRAVEL product.
    I would like a response as this is becoming a too common problem on our highways and if the governments own insurance body ICBC will not cover the damages I feel their is a major problem.
    Sincerely ,
    Andrew Crane.

    • tranbceditor on December 16, 2013 at 1:18 pm

      Hi Andrew, thanks for your comment.

      You’re correct; we do not use “sand” on B.C. roads. As mentioned above, the maximum allowable size of the abrasive is 12.5 mm, so winter abrasive is much coarser than sand. The fact is, if the winter abrasive is too fine, it simply blows away and creates a safety risk. Therefore, unfortunately, using this kind of winter abrasive is a necessity during the winter to control slippery surfaces and improve safety for the travelling public.

      Material rocks larger than 12.5 mm do sometimes end up on our highways. However, they often come from other sources, such as private haulers or other vehicles that drop larger materials onto the highway after exiting resource or side roads.

      I can tell you that we’re constantly researching to find better methods and new technologies to improve the safety and reliability of our roads during the winter months, while minimizing the potential for vehicle damage. Until we find something better, however, we will continue to use the current size of abrasive to ensure the travelling public has adequate traction during those cold winter days. we’ll still be using this kind of abrasive.

      • derek on December 26, 2013 at 10:31 pm

        I agree with this person very strongly. I live in Grande prairie and we get 80km/hr plus winds sometimes. We barely get abrasives on our roads and when we do its SAND! Guess what it doesn’t go everywhere like you say it does. The roads can be slick yeah for sure but its not that big of a deal. Drive according to the conditions right. I literally just drove through Armstrong an hour ago and at 70 km/hr I had roughly 4 or 5 STONES that are probly the described 12.5 mm size bounce off my windshield and hood, pillars etc. All coming from cars a good distance in front and also from beside me. I now have a rock chip that is spreading in 10 different directions and since my Subaru has wiper defrosters built in this will be a $1000 plus repair! Obviously you guys aren’t going to pay for it so no big deal on your part I guess.

        • Ken Tiessen on January 7, 2017 at 4:04 pm

          It is ridiculous, made approximately four trips to Kamloops with a brand new Cruze, made the mistake is washing it. Counted a dozen chips on the hood, and I tried very hard to not get any if you know what I mean.

          • David on January 17, 2017 at 11:20 am

            Should have bought a ford!

  2. Kathleen on March 3, 2014 at 12:25 pm

    The chemicals you are using on the highways are causing serious paint pitting in vehicles. You must stop using these chemicals. We cannot afford to have our vehicle re-painted every year!

    • tranbceditor on March 4, 2014 at 12:34 pm

      Hi Kathleen,

      Thanks for letting us know of your concern. Is there a specific area that you travel, so we can follow up with the maintenance contractor?

  3. Strphane mitchell on March 6, 2014 at 3:16 am

    Complete disaster yesterday I’m so pissed furious.
    One trip to kamloops and back from Vancouver
    My brand new Mercedes sprinter has well over 200 paint chips
    And three major chips on the window.
    It will require a complete repaint which means it will no longer be a factory paint job
    Plus the inconvenience.
    This gravel on the highway is insane
    As the the snow melted yesterday on the highway between Hope and Merritt you can see from the traffic large major pools of gravel that has been comsolidated by the traffic and tremendous water from melting snow.
    One semi after another were ripping through the pools of water and gravel and launching it every wear if I took a pail of gravel and through it at the front of my van about a thousand times that was my trip yesterday.
    I seriously would like to kick the guy in the nuts who thinks placing tons of gravel on the highway is a good idea
    I paid 70,000 plus tax for my van and it is destroyed with only 20,000 k
    Seriously like explain to me why my van should be destroyed.
    Absolute stupidity

    • tranbceditor on March 6, 2014 at 10:01 am

      Hello Stephane,

      Thank you for letting us know. We are forwarding your comment to the district office for follow up.

    • tranbceditor on March 7, 2014 at 10:23 am

      Hi Stephane,

      We want to assure you that, your concern about the damage to windshields and paint that occur as a result of winter abrasives and ponding water are being heard. Below is some information from the district office for you.

      In response to your inquiry about the size of the winter abrasives, the ministry currently uses 12.5 mm winter abrasives, we use this size because it stays on the road; smaller sizes tends to get blown off, especially when there is a lot heavy truck traffic like the Coquihalla gets. This size also provides a higher level of safety in the traction restoration of slippery surfaces on the steep challenges these routes present. The ministry works closely with its maintenance contractors to insure the standard specification for size is not exceeded. This year we have performed audits on the contractors stockpiles to ensure our stringent standards are being met.

      You might know that, since February 10th, the Coquihalla has seen upwards of 3 metres of fallen snow. This recent “pineapple express” has seen soaring day temperatures and heavy rainfall, resulting is areas of ponding water and accumulations of winter aggregates caused by the rapid melt and accompanying rain.

      You’ll be interested to know that the ministry is currently doing a review of the best practices in this area (checking with other jurisdictions about their standards and experience); we are also doing some selected trials ourselves(testing the effectiveness of the smaller abrasives and different application methods) and we hope to be able to have enough information by the end of the winter to be able to determine whether we can alter our specifications without reducing the safety of the travelling public.

      If you have further comments/issues that you would like to share with us , please don’t hesitate to contact our local Operations Manager he can be reached at Dennis.Kurylowich@gov.bc.ca. or by telephone at 250-378-1414. The ministry’s main focus is to provide a safe, reliable, highway system for the travelling public and feedback from people such as yourself is an important part of the process. Thank you.

  4. PGLulu on May 1, 2014 at 10:42 pm

    So what about when a sand truck coming towards you and you slow your vehicle to 60km on the highway and the sand truck operator does not turn his spreader off and completely destroys your paint job? My vehicle requires a new windshield, and repainting on my hood, roof, side front panels all the way back to my gas tank. Is there no procedure the driver must follow? Are us northern community drivers supposed to pay for their negligence?

  5. Quesnel21 on May 13, 2014 at 11:58 pm

    This topic always causes quite some controversy. Thing is iv lived in winnipeg , mb for 4 years , which is considered one of the windiest cities and guess what they use on their highways… Sand and no it
    Does not blow off the highways . The lovely pebbles they use here simply cause more complaints and damage
    Than anything
    From rockchips , windshields, to lines on the highways
    Having to be repainted every year due to the wear From
    The gravel. The sand will stick to the ice or snow no matter what , its not
    Going to blow off. Where as gravel is put down at intersections someone spins there
    Tires once and its gone. Is it that bc doesnt have enough resources for fine sand?
    Is the gravel cheaper ? Seriously whats the excuse .

  6. Hetty Gaites on December 3, 2014 at 3:41 pm

    I am so sick and tired of each spring having to replace my windshield (let alone all the paint chips and dents) each and every year. It’s not just me, but the whole family as they try to limp through a year with major cracks in their windshields ($1,000 a year deductible from my immediate family alone). It is my understanding (from people that I know that work at VSA) that the government sets the “rules” for the grade of “sand/rocks” that they allow, and the contractors do as little as needed (to save costs) and grade the “sand” to the allowable size, WHICH IS WAY TOO BIG OBVIOUSLY, to do that much damage. I believe if we all petition the Minister (Todd Stone) and the Deputy Minister at minister.transportation@gov.bc.ca and deputyminister.transportation@gov.bc.ca to demand that they grade the “sand” to acceptable sand, only then with the contractors comply.
    Let’s spread the word!

  7. Peter Wainwright on December 20, 2014 at 8:38 pm

    I was driving from Sicamous to Vernon on Wednesday 17th Dec evening. Before Enderby at around 6.30pm a sand truck was coming towards me in the opposite lane. He could see my lights from a long way yet didn’t stop spraying. I was probably only doing about 80km/h. I couldn’t believe how aggressive the shower of gravel was. I was shocked there were no chips in the windshield. But the next morning I looked at the front of my car closer, and the passenger fog light was cracked and had a hole in it and my drivers headlight had a neat hole from a piece of gravel hitting it so hard. It seemed clear to me from the sound of the gravel hitting my car it was unnecessarily large for road safety on the that highway. In addition the highway was bare and dry.
    I bought the car less than 3 weeks ago, second hand but in great condition and now I have to fork out over $500 to replace headlight lens because of some reckless use of oversize sand and a careless sand truck driver. Incredibly frustrating.

  8. Marilyn Hill on January 27, 2015 at 7:38 pm

    To Ministry of Transport and ICBC
    RE: Damage and Safety regarding Sand used on Highway.
    This last weekend in January has been very warm. 15 C. on Vancouver Island. We commonly have very mild tempertures. The section on Highway 4 between Qualicum and into Port Alberni is chronically sanded with huge rocks. and definitely was not needed this weekend. The 12.5mm rocks are NOT SAND. .. It’s like driving on a surface covered with marbles. Very unsafe. The rocks are projectiles that cause massive damage. There is nothing for these rocks to stick to when there isn’t any snow around. 12.5mm is 1 – 1/4cm, which is only appropriate for landscaping gardens. It is far too large and too dangerous for use on our highways.
    Our weather on Vancouver Island does not warrant such extreme measures. We do not have the same issues as Northern Regions of the Province and the sand should be moderated for our specific area. A Ministry official anwered our concerns by telling us to drive a BEATER. Really? I’m not allowed to own and keep a car in reasonably good condition? What kind of answer is that?
    Please Help Resolve Road Safety Sanding Issue Immediately By:
    1. Changing the specifications of the sanding material to less than 3mm (.03cm) .(Still too large but it’s a compromise)
    2. only apply when road surfaces actually have snow to allow for adhesion of sanding material..
    3. Use fine sand or other non-damaging de-icing strategies in the case of icy road surfaces.
    4. Do Not Apply when weather is warm or above 0 Celcius
    I hope the strategies provided will be initiated asap.
    Truly exasperated,
    Marilyn

    • tranbceditor on January 30, 2015 at 11:28 am

      Hi Marilyn,
      Thanks for the comments and sharing your concerns. We will be looking at our specifications when we go out to tender the highway maintenance agreements next time. The are all really good suggestions that we will be considering.

  9. Carter on January 11, 2016 at 10:15 pm

    At around 5:45pm today (Jan 11) between Revelstoke and Sicamous, a sander/rock truck travelling in opposite direction on a straight away decided to leave their sander on and sent a wave of rocks/sand into my car. This left me with about 8 rock chips in my windshield, some of which have already started to spider, along with some paint chips and a broken fog light. The operator of this spreader was careless and his reckless ways put drivers on the road in danger. The amount of large rocks that hit my car could have shattered my windshield causing me to lose sight of the road, which would have had deadly consequences.

    • tranbceditor on January 12, 2016 at 1:25 pm

      Hi Carter,
      Thank you for connecting with us here and sharing your experience. We are glad to hear that you are okay and we have shared your feedback directly with the area manager for review. Claims can be submitted to ICBC here: http://www.icbc.com/claims/Pages/default.aspx.

    • tranbceditor on January 13, 2016 at 11:27 am

      Hi again Carter,

      We shared your feedback with the local area manager for review and he informed us that operators are required to turn off their sanders off when traffic is approaching but sometimes the spinner may continue to spin for a short period of time even after it has been turned off and the material will free fall out onto the road instead of being spread which can contribute to windshield damage. Please contact our insurance and claims department at BCHighwaysClaims@gov.bc.ca.

  10. Darrell Roze on February 17, 2016 at 9:45 am

    Over the last two months our vehicle has gone on five short trips between Prince George, Mackenzie, and McBride/Valemount. On each and every trip we have received cracks in its windshield. At least two cracks have been from gravel much larger than 12.5 mm, and the source was almost surely from “sanding” trucks. This has happened with different drivers that have been driving the vehicle for years without issue. Either we have faced a tremendous run of bad luck, or the sanding trucks have started using different and unacceptably large material. Within the last two months we have had to replace our window, replace cracks in the new windshield, and now we have another large crack that will require a second windshield replacement.

    We are a charity that helps children with medical issues and special needs. We cannot afford to replace our windshield every couple of months due to improper and/or unacceptable highway maintenance practices

    • tranbceditor on February 19, 2016 at 4:57 pm

      Hi Darell,

      Thanks for connecting with us here. We shared your concern forward with the local area manager and here is his reply. Hope that this helps.

      Thank you for your comments regarding winter maintenance on our northern highways and aggregate particle size in particular.

      The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure audits the Maintenance Contractor’s aggregate material production to ensure that the material being used meet’s the province’s specifications which does in fact require a maximum particle size of 12.5mm along with a blend of other smaller sizes. As I am sure you are aware, the use of winter sand is one of the methods that is used to restore traction and make our highways safe for the travelling public. While every effort is made to ensure that the aggregate being used is appropriate there are unfortunately circumstances when incidental damage does occur. The ministry does have a claim process which your group may want to explore, so I will include a link for your purposes http://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/transportation/driving-and-cycling/licensing-and-insurance/highway-claims

      I am very sorry to hear that your organization has been impacted financially through the replacement of your windshield. If you have any other questions or concerns please feel free to contact me directly.

      Greg Bruce,
      District Operations Manager, Fort George District

  11. Jason helberg on December 19, 2016 at 2:02 am

    My nam is Jason n on December 12 I was headed to Grand Prairie AB from jasper before cash creek I was peppered with pee gravel. All running lights n head lights n winshild r cracked n Brocken with rock chips now on a two lain Hwy I have never seen one sand truck ever spread rocks across road n dich ni have been driveing truck for 20 years n never had this happen I’ve herd of it but never seen it until now it could of been a macanical failer but at time road was well graveled n in good condion at the time just cold -28 but it was around 1 pm this took place why would he be wanting to spray gravel on me or on the two cars that were following him closely a clump of gravel could of fallin off at the time I’m not a100% shere but I will say that safety first n I do know u hwy people are there to try to keep r roads safe for travel n yes most truckers complaine a lot n I now how hard u work n I have no complaints about any road i travel its been a vary good job done by all Hwy AB/BC.

    • tranbceditor on December 20, 2016 at 5:51 pm

      Hi Jason,

      Thank you for connecting with us here and for the kind words about the work done to keep BC highways safe for travellers. Regarding your concern over the pea gravel, could you confirm where you were when the incident happened? That way we can make sure we send it to the right folks for follow up. Thanks!

  12. guy katona on December 27, 2016 at 3:45 pm

    I am a south cariboo resident and for the last six years have had to get a new windshield every year. I dont buy any of this crap about it has to be a certain size to stay on the road. When will this end?icbc will have to keep increasing the rates to keep up with the damages or order interior roads to quit wrecking our roads.

    • tranbceditor on January 19, 2017 at 2:35 pm

      Hello Guy,

      The ministry works hard to provide a safe and effective transportation network and our maintenance contractors use winter abrasives to improve road traction and reduce serious collisions. Our road maintenance contractors follow specifications regarding the size aggregates. This is monitored by our local area managers and quality/performance audit managers and includes testing winter aggregates to ensure there is no oversize materials.

      The current winter abrasive mix has been used for many years with good safety results. As part of the Maintenance Contract Renewal process, we are running trials with 9.5 mm winter aggregates in specific areas of the province to ensure that smaller sizes will retain the same traction and continue to assist with drivers safety.

      Once we are satisfied that the smaller gradations are able to provide traction equal to the larger materials we will be including the new specification in the next round of road maintenance contracts coming out in 2017 & 2018. We hope that this helps answer your questions.

  13. Borna on December 27, 2016 at 11:39 pm

    We’re currently travelling between Vancouver and Kamloops, and the amount of rock matter covering a partially dry, partially wet highway is unbelievable. My vehicles windshield which was replaced two months ago has received tens if not hundreds of micro chips and a large spider crack in a mere four hours of travel. We always drive slower than the average rate of speed, maintain our distance and try to keep in the right most lane. With this amount of damange to our vehicle and given our driving paractices, we cannot be a statistical anomaly. At some point the ministry has to realize that nearly every single vehicle travelling through these “maintained” routes is receiving heavy, costly, burdensome damage on every trip. Highways are not places to dump tons and tons of half inch sharp rock fragments. I’m also highly skeptical of the rationalization of “abrasive” usage instead of the traditional sand. TransBC has provided no information as to the research and studies that led to the selection of “winter abrasive”. Simply put, where is this information? If a piece of winter abrasive can be picked up and catapulted by a passenger vehicle, it is very unlikely to stay on the intended surface for very long. Moreover, the air pressure differential (vaccume) created by larger moving vehicles will quickly uneven and negate and even scattering of the abrasive across the lanes. Just about the only rationalization of the “larger” rocks which makes sense is the washing away effect of streams of water on sand. Furthermore, with the magnitude of damage incurred to vehicles and the price of travelling across this highway, how are the long term financial consequences of this type of “maintenance” weighted against ire benifits? I doubt that many of the incidents on this highways caused by wreck less, endagered and high speed driving and I’ll preparation can even be avoided through this type of tending. It almost seems as if the negligence of the highway maintenance standards and actual practices is proportional to that of the drivers fundamentally requiring this type of intervention. I would urge TransBC to reflect on this and provide any type of concrete information beyond the presumptuous, unscientific and rather distasteful “why Small Rocks, Instrad of Sand” article.

    • tranbceditor on February 2, 2017 at 1:32 pm

      Hello,

      Thank you for connecting with us here regarding your concerns on the size of winter aggregates. The ministry works hard to provide a safe and effective transportation network. Maintenance contractors use winter abrasives to improve road traction and reduce serious collisions. Our road maintenance contractors follow specifications regarding the size aggregates. This is monitored by our local area managers and quality/performance audit managers, this includes testing winter aggregates to ensure there are no oversize materials.
      The current winter abrasive mix has been used for many years with good safety results.

      As part of the upcoming Maintenance Contract Renewal process, we are running trials with 9.5 mm winter aggregates in specific areas of the province to ensure that smaller sizes will retain the same traction and continue to assist with drivers safety. Once we are satisfied that the smaller gradations are able to provide traction equal to the larger materials we will be including the new specification in the next round of road maintenance contracts coming out in 2017 & 2018.

      We hope this helps satisfy your question. If you have any other questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to let us know.

  14. William Kucharsky on February 1, 2017 at 1:05 am

    Unbelievable comments concerning motorists impacted by rocks from tranbceditor! It fits in perfectly with the non reply I received from Capilano Highways Maintenance after e-mailing them regarding shot rock placed on a maintained gravel road on Texada Island. The gravel?? was mostly between 75 mm and 150mm in size. Walking on this surface is almost impossible! I watched our local Ambulance weaving through this mess on its way to a medical emergency at very slow speed. My neighbor also lodged a complaint and received a stupid response. I guess the present government has lots of friends that sell new cars and services. What the rocks don’t damage the corrosive brine used for ice and dust control will necessitate an early vehicle purchase to replace the beat and rusted vehicle. Keeps the economy growing. What standards you have now!

    • tranbceditor on February 2, 2017 at 12:11 pm

      Hello William,

      Thank you for connecting with us here and sharing your concerns. We have shared your comment about the size of the rock observed on Texada with our local area manager and the maintenance contractor for review.

  15. Lisa on March 8, 2017 at 2:34 pm

    Since the early 90’s, I’ve driven hundreds of times on B.C. Highways, in all weather conditions and I can say with certainty that I’ve seen a major decline in road conditions; and its not due to any changes in the weather. As a matter of fact, there were many significant snow storms on the Coquihalla and Hwy 1 in the 90’s and the Government Highway Maintenance workers did a phenomenal job at keeping the highways safe. They were always prompt in plowing ALL of the snow from EVERY lane of travel and applied a mixture of salt and SAND. I highlight these keywords because these private contracted companies do NOT plow the snow to the pavement (perhaps in an effort to extend the life of plow blades) and on MANY multi-lane sections of Highway, some lanes are neglected altogether and are virtually un-driveable. As far as the “Abrasives” are concerned, I absolutely do not agree with their use because there were no significant issues from the use of sand when Government Highway Maintenance workers did the job. The roads were notably safer and I managed to drive on B.C. highways for 10 years before ever needing to replace a windshield. Now, I can’t get through ONE trip across the province without some windshield or paint damage from rocks. Its also my opinion that there are far more accidents and road closures since Privatizing Highway Maintenance, which cost the Government and Taxpayer more money than any anticipated savings from Contracting out these services. I bet if the current Government researched this data and expanded on the findings of the last Auditor’s Report on Highway Maintenance, they would reach these same conclusions. It was also observed in Ontario after they Privatized Highway Maintenance. Nonetheless, I don’t care who does the job as long as its done right.

    • tranbceditor on March 9, 2017 at 1:30 pm

      Hi Lisa,

      Thank you for your comment and for sharing your concern. The ministry works hard to provide a safe and effective transportation network and our maintenance contractors use winter abrasives to improve road traction and reduce serious collisions. Our road maintenance contractors follow specifications regarding the size aggregates. This is monitored by our local area managers and quality/performance audit managers and includes testing winter aggregates to ensure there is no oversize materials.

      The current winter abrasive mix has been used for many years with good safety results. As part of the Maintenance Contract Renewal process, we are running trials with 9.5 mm winter aggregates in specific areas of the province to ensure that smaller sizes will retain the same traction and continue to assist with drivers safety.

      Once we are satisfied that the smaller gradations are able to provide traction equal to the larger materials we will be including the new specification in the next round of road maintenance contracts coming out in 2017 & 2018. We hope that this helps answer your questions.

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