The ABCs of Winter Highway Classification and Maintenance

Want to go for a snow plow ride along? Click on image.

Our maintenance contractors work hard every day to keep BC highways safe and traffic moving smoothly. Because British Columbia is a geographically diverse province, our contractors can face any number of unique challenges where highway maintenance is concerned, especially in winter.

In order to make sure they understand exactly what is expected of them in their day to day operations, we outline our maintenance requirements in detail. Part of that detail involves classifying provincial highways. With that in mind, here’s the lowdown on winter highway classification in B.C. and what that means to you.

B.C. Highways are classified A, B, C, D & E and are maintained in that order.

Winter highway classifications are based on traffic volumes and function. As are the first priority; followed by Bs and Cs… you get the idea. A great example of an “A” is the Trans-Canada Highway. Highway 18, the Cowichan Valley Highway is a great example of a main highway or “B”. “C” routes are other roads that are neither A nor B, but could be required to get those kiddies back to school and the like. “D” and “E” are the roads generally less travelled.

If a route becomes more popular or sees an increase in commercial traffic, we may upgrade its classification and increase highway operations on that route, as we recently did on Highway 16. It’s all about safety. Changes like this mean can an increase in the maintenance commitment, resulting in more frequent patrols and quicker response times, and more plowing, snow removal, and salt and sand applications.

Here are some examples of the standards against which our contractors measure their work:

Maximum Allowable Accumulation:
Basically this is the maximum amount of snow allowed to accumulate before our contractors are required to plow. A highway with an “A” classification is allowed up to 4 cm before it must be plowed, while an “E” is allowed up to 25cm.

Completion of Snow Removal:
The following table shows the allowable number of days between the end of the last measurable snowfall and the completion of snow removal operations on the highway. In other words, this is how long we allow the remaining snow to sit on the road after a storm.

Picture1

During storms, our maintenance contractors put all of their equipment into action to make sure that our highways remain safe. Our contractors also continuously update road conditions on DriveBC, helping you know before you go. After a storm, they review their performance in order to provide the best service possible in the next bout of nasty weather.

What questions about winter highway maintenance or highway classification do you have? Let us know in the comments below, or connect with us on Twitter or Facebook. We look forward to talking with you.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

21 Responses to The ABCs of Winter Highway Classification and Maintenance

  1. robt johnson on November 29, 2017 at 12:00 pm

    we as taxpayers pay for these contracts and if the road classifications do not fit the needs of the school bus route there needs to be a away to change the classification as a ministry we always gave these school bus routes safety priority and as a retired highways worker 35 years i get a little concerned when we see school bus units off the highway these metal container contain our children the future people in this province and the ministry and contractor must rethink these standards and pay more attention to school bus routes as was done prior to privatization and profits were not ahead of pupil safety

  2. Michael Plant on February 10, 2016 at 12:43 pm

    Hi…I am looking for more detailed information about BC’s winter hwy classification system. Can you provide me with a link to more specific details, AADT or WADT thresholds, classification of road, etc. Thanks Mike

  3. Marie on January 6, 2016 at 2:58 pm

    Hi, I’m looking for the current regulations/rules regarding the safe operation of snowplows? Thank you.

    • tranbceditor on January 15, 2016 at 11:03 am

      Hello Marie,

      Thank you for connecting with us here. We were able to locate two rules governing the safe operation of snowplows on BC highways specifically:

      1. Section 121 of the BC MVA
      Construction and maintenance vehicles
      121 Despite section 120 (b), the driver of a vehicle referred to in that section must drive with due regard for safety, having regard to all the circumstances, including the nature, condition and use of the highway and the amount of traffic that is, or might reasonably be expected to be, on it.

      2. Schedule 15 of the Highway Maintenance Agreement (Commercial Vehicles Permit)

      I hope that this helps answer your question. Please let us know if you have any further questions.

  4. Tristen on September 8, 2015 at 10:31 am

    Hi I’m looking for a document “Maintenance Services Manual: Standards for Road and Bridge Maintenance Services”. Does this still exist or has it been replaced by another name/manual?
    I’m drafting up a tender for Winter Maintenance and want to include the requirements from the manual.

  5. sarrah keays on January 7, 2015 at 11:31 am

    I just wanna say that there is a huge debate going on in the east kootenays. See facebook page taking back east kootenay highways. And they are trying to remove main roads from their contract. Most i would say never grew up in the valley or lived here long. I really found this information helpful but still most people on that page expect bare roads immediately after a storm and do not understand the challenges that are faced on the road. Press releases like this help for sure. But i think some need to be informed on the processes a bit more.
    And can i ask why there are minstry trucks(yellow trucks with yellow flashing lights) on class c or d roads before they are plowed… one almost drove me off the road before Christmas.

    • tranbceditor on January 7, 2015 at 2:50 pm

      Hi Sarrah,

      Thanks for connecting with us here. We are aware of the debate around maintenance in the East Kootenay area. We continue to try to share condition information, contract requirements etc. on a regular basis, both on the page itself and through our other channels. Our area managers regularly patrol all classifications of highway on a regular basis to make sure the roads are being maintained properly. Would you like us to connect with the area office to share your incident?

  6. Brian Lang on December 17, 2014 at 12:18 pm

    Is there a list of what highways have what classification? I’ve heard several complaints about Highway 5 between Kamloops and Tete Jaune Cache over the years and was wondering what its designation was.

    • tranbceditor on December 17, 2014 at 4:29 pm

      Hi Brian, we have forwarded your question, stay tuned.

      • Jim Wiggins on December 18, 2014 at 3:50 pm

        Bit of an elaboration as I too have heard of similar complaints, as well as experiencing, directly and indirectly, what seems to be less than the stipulated level of snow plowing. I’ve also sent an e-mail, 2 weeks ago, and, more recently, 2 voice-mail messages to Ian Pilkington, the “Director, Rehabilitation and Maintenance” for the Ministry asking for information on the associated contracts – no responses yet.

        However, I have found this document (1) specifies the criteria for the A-F designations largely in terms of the traffic volume, although it is somewhat vague when it comes to direction. And the Traffic Data Program (2) – quite impressive, I might add – gives some indication that Highway 5 qualifies as classification A.

        —–
        1) “_http://www.th.gov.bc.ca/BCHighways/contracts/maintenance/Schedule_21_Maintenance_Specifications.pdf”;
        2) “_http://www.th.gov.bc.ca/trafficdata/index.html”;

        • tranbceditor on December 19, 2014 at 12:50 pm

          Hi Jim,
          Thanks for your comments and feedback. I also spoke with Ian who will be in touch very soon. He apologizes that it has taken so long.

          • Jim Wiggins on February 4, 2015 at 6:25 pm

            tranbceditor:

            My pleasure – nice that the Ministry maintains a blog for dissemminating information and handling complaints. πŸ™‚

            And thank you for jogging Mr. Pilkington’s memory; I expect he has a lot on his plate, and my questions were hardly earth-shatteringly important ones. And he did respond shortly after your comment with some additional information on maintenance contracts that I hadn’t been able to find so that was most appreciated. And I just recently and quite belatedly sent him an e-mail thanking him for that information.

            However, as I had indicated in that e-mail, it seems that while the BCHighways Department has an impressive set of specifications and procedures that the maintenance contractors are obliged to maintain and follow, it seems there is a missing link in that the Highways Department may not be monitoring some or all of those contractors sufficiently often enough or in sufficient detail to ensure compliance. As the comment of “Frank Fugger” above suggests may be the case with the Coquihalla. Although your later response to “Sarrah Keays” suggests that there are “Area Managers” who provide that missing link, that “closing of the feedback loop”.

            However, I’m wondering whether or not the results of that monitoring are available on the BCHighways site, and if they’re not then whether they could be. Apparently a somewhat famous jurist said that “Not only must Justice be done; it must also be seen to be done.” Which one might reasonably extend to questions of compliance by the contractors hired by the Department to maintain our highways, particularly during the winter.

            So, since it seems you may have the ear of those in the upper echelons of the Department, I’m wondering whether there might be some value in broaching the question of compliance monitoring and, if that system is already in place, of providing public access to the results of it.

            In any case, thank you again for your efforts and information – and my apology for a belated response.

          • tranbceditor on February 5, 2015 at 11:38 am

            Good to hear you are happy with us Jim. We have shared your comment forward for consideration. Thanks!

    • tranbceditor on December 22, 2014 at 4:10 pm

      Thanks for your question! We do have information available on the Data BC website.

      The website does have information about maintenance class but it is not within a service area, rather it splits the Province into Regional and District boundaries which don’t necessarily coincide with the service area boundaries. I’ve provided some information below on how to access the website, what information (called “layers”) can be viewed and how to download information so you can see if it’s helpful.

      Here are the steps to data on the GeoBC Warehouse – Open Data
      • http://www.data.gov.bc.ca
      • In the Search for Data box, type in MoT (not case sensitive) and click the Search button
      • Click the word SHP on the desired layer to bring up more information regarding the selection
      • Click the word SHP under the Download Files to bring up the Data Distribution Service form
      • Fill in all of the appropriate information Area of Interest, Projection, Format, etc on the form to order the layer
      • Click the Submit Order button

      CHRIS has 2 Boundary layers, 2 Network layers and 16 Inventory layers on Open Data
      • MoT Regional Boundary
      • MoT District Boundary
      • RFI Network
      • LKI Network
      • BSR – Bridge Structure Road
      • CULV – Culverts
      • DA – Drainage Appliance
      • GR – Guardrail
      • HP – Highway Profile
      • HRP – Highway Reference Point
      • LSF – Linear Safety Feature
      • MC – Maintenance Class
      • RA – Rest Area
      • RRX – Railroad Crossing
      • RW – Retaining Wall
      • SF – Safety Feature
      • SIGN – Sign
      • SL – Special Lane Profile
      • SS – Storm Sewer
      • SURF – Surface Type

      How to download information from the website:

      • Go to the DataBC Catalogue @ http://www.data.gov.bc.ca/dbc/catalogue/index.page?keywords=site:apps.gov.bc.ca&config=dbc&rc=1&size=25&sortid=4&WT.svl=Topnav

      • In the search box, type ‘MOT’ and hit enter. A list of search results will appear.

      • Find the data you are looking for, expand the details, and click on the “Click here for More Info” link.

      • The new page that opens will have a “Download Data” button if the data is freely downloadable by the public. Click on that button.

      • On the new window that opens, customize your “data order to your needs” and click submit. The following graphic details the important fields.

      Please let me know if I can be of any further assistance.

  7. Frank Fugger on December 9, 2014 at 11:32 am

    Thank you, I found this information answered some of my questions. I offer a comment in regard to the statement: ” During storms, our maintenance contractors put all of their equipment into action —.” We know from numerous first-hand experiences and interviewing truck drivers that contractors rarely use “all of their equipment”. On at least a dozen occasions Highway 5 between Kamloops and Hope has had six to 10 cms of snow and we have seen one only or two or sometimes three plows. Once we saw three plows and one grader. On one occasion with approximately 10 cms of fresh snow on the highway, and more falling, one plow was plowing downhill near the snow shed and two others were plowing the side roads by the lakes. What a mess for us and the truckers.
    In our area at Adams Lake, in 2010 we went without any plowing for three days because the contractor could not find any drivers.
    And there is one of the root problems of your contracts— PART-TIME drivers. Few if any drivers are full-time so they must have other jobs to make enough money to live. When it snows many are already at their other jobs. The second difficulty is the fixed minimum payout the contractors receive. They make more money if they don’t plow!!! They save labour, operating and maintenance expenses.
    I have had excellent cooperation from the BC Highways staff in our area. As soon as they are notified of a problem (signage on Holding Road, untreated road conditions) they have responded promptly. Great work!
    If you are able please pass this email on to senior management and to the Minister’s office.

    • tranbceditor on December 9, 2014 at 4:50 pm

      Hi Frank,
      Thanks for connecting with us here and sharing your feedback. We have forwarded your comment on for review.

  8. Brown Michel on November 10, 2014 at 12:35 pm

    Bonjour,

    I am working in road winter maintenance for the Ministry of Transportation of Quιbec (MTQ).

    Is that possible to get from your miistry a copy (hard or electronic copy)of British colombia Maintenance Manual. My interest is on quality standard and maintenance best practices in road winter operations.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.