How New Maintenance Contracts Will Make Highways Better

MC Snow
Since the privatization of highway maintenance in BC, we’ve governed the level of service required from our contractors through our Maintenance Contract Agreements.  However, in the 27 years since highway maintenance was privatized, there have been substantial changes both in the industry and in public expectations. We’ve recently renewed the maintenance contract for the East Kootenay service area and the language in this new contract will be the starting point for all of our maintenance contracts around the province as they come up for renewal over the next three years.

MC tender
This new contract has improved language, which will foster a better level of service by requiring the contractor to be more responsive. For example, the new contract requires the roads to be brought back to bare pavement sooner after a weather event.

What else has changed?

  • We’ve changed some winter maintenance specifications, such as: a reduction in time to reach bare and black pavement for -9oC and warmer, and encouraging a proactive approach to winter weather events.
  • We’ve increased the upset price (setting a maximum price) from the previous contract round to reflect changes in the level of winter maintenance over past 15 years. The upset price approach challenges contractors to provide the greatest amount of service for that price.
  • We aren’t limiting the number of service area contracts any one contractor can hold.
  • We’ve clarified ambiguous language in the Maintenance Contract Specifications and made an effort to reduce duplication.
  • We’ve clarified the definition of an emergency through a unified “Major Event” specification.
  • We have a requirement to control invasive plants.
  • There are provisions in the contract for additional sweeping along highways used by cyclists.

We constantly monitor the work of our maintenance contractors to ensure they are in line with the terms of their contract and are meeting our high standards. Contractors’ work is also assessed by local ministry staff within the service area and by the annual assessments of auditors from outside the service area. We also check with local stakeholders including emergency responders, elected officials and school bus operators.

TranBC Trivia

  • Our maintenance contractors maintain approximately 47,800 kilometres of road, and 2,800 bridges across the province.
  • There are over 2,000 contracted employees and hundreds of trucks and pieces of equipment working 24/7 to keep our highways open, safe and reliable.

Maintenance contractors provide a vital service in British Columbia by making sure that our roads, highways and bridges are safe for travel. We appreciate the work they do, often in difficult conditions. You can play an important part in keeping BC Highways safe too. Always check DriveBC before you travel and be sure to drive to road conditions. Do you have any questions about this or any other work the BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure does? Let us know in the comments below. Safe travels all.

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Page 1 of 39 comments on “How New Maintenance Contracts Will Make Highways Better”

Leave a Reply to Chris ward Cancel reply

  1. In the 3 years I have ben driving in the south Okanagan 2019-2021 I have felt the highways deteriate under my wheels. Today I forgot for a second about alligator sinkhole curve on highway 3a and ripped my tire open. While changing the tire at the rest stop an AIM Roads truck pulled in then ironically took off when I waved him over. We have had 5 fatal accidents in 3 weeks. There is snow removal issues, crumbling roads etc etc. Not better and not safer period.

  2. Salt Spring Island – Main Road Contracting.

    We live on a “D: class road on Salt Spring Island.
    There are 48 houses relying on “D” class Bridgeman Road to get to the hospital, ferries, and schools. It is 2 km to the nearest cleared road (Beaver Point Road).
    This road has not been plowed since it snowed 4 days ago. A hydro truck with chains, coming to restore power, went off this road today.
    Unbelievably, a road maintenance contractor is allowed 21 days to remove snow from a “D” class road.

    The road classification system requires updating.
    The upcoming contract renewal (RFP ends March 15, 2019) requires a budget reflecting changing weather conditions with scientific evidence of global warming.
    Since privatisation of road maintenance in 1988, road clearance of snow, and road maintenance has not changed on Salt Spring Island, despite population at least doubling.

  3. Hello, could you please provide me with information on the process, how to make a complaint, going beyond the contractor in the Qualicum Beach area? Also could I please get a copy of the maintenance contract that deals with dust control.

  4. there is a specification for response time for filling potholes which calls for 24 hr response we have had potholes in area 10 that have been reported and remain un repaired for 5 weeks, everyone from the highways minister highways manager and contractor know however there is no safety priority placed on getting road hazards attended to to avoid head on collisions from vehicles steering out and around the potholes and no attention pad to the pre mature damage caused to steering and suspension parts of all vehicles travelling the roads of B.C. some that are not so beautiful. keeping the water out of the road surface is a priority but is overlooked

    • The 2003/04 ministry specifications are not intended to be viewed as black or white; they are only one part of a much larger highway maintenance agreement. Contractors manage their work in accordance with a Quality Management System based on the principles of the ISO 9000:2000 standard, and the ministry has the ability to apply discretion and use the test of reasonableness in every scenario. Potholes reported are identified and scheduled for a repair that fits both the ministry’s and the contractor’s time frame.

    • Hello David,

      Highway maintenance was privatized in 1988 based on a belief that private contractors could deliver road maintenance more efficiently and cost effectively due to their ability to take on other private work during quieter times in the season, the ability to adapt to new technology quickly and their competitive desire to adopt innovation as it becomes available. Hope that this helps answer your question.

    • the hype was to save money, operating cost for govt. garage operation all found labor was $ 21.50 per hr and the next day after privatization $ 36.00 was the rate for same work downtown, no saving evident but more expensive and the hype was that private parties would do the work cheaper

      there was not enough dollars in the system to replace older equipment, and units were being ran beyond their economical life expectancy. and leasing was not an available option

  5. After several trips to the lower mainland this winter leaves me no choice but to comment on the lack of snow clearing required to effectively keep the coquihalla highway safe for our residents. I do fully understand the scope of what is required to do this as a contractor myself, however I believe VSA needs to be put under the scrutiny of ministry staff far more than they have been this year as the problem is getting worse for a reason. Saving money on salt, sand and manpower should not be allowed to come at the expense of people’s lives which seems to be the path our MOH staff have resorted to find acceptable.
    In closing if VSA is not capable of the tasks needed to keep the highways safe then they need to be relieved and replaced with a competent contractor that can handle the job.

    • Hello Pete,

      Thank you for connecting with us here and sharing your concerns. The safety of the travelling public is always our number one concern. We sent your comment to the local area manager who confirmed that the ministry monitors every single one of our contractors performance across the province and can confirm that VSA meet and exceed our winter maintenance specifications and are always closely monitored, specifically during heavy snowfall events (the Coquihalla has seen an exceptional amount of snowfall this year (in excess of 10m in some locations). If you have any other questions, comments or concerns, don’t hesitate to let us know.

  6. its sad that in area 11 we lost 3 lives and 2 horses Because there was compacted glare ice that was not sanded by the contractor, they said they had applied de icer chemicals early in the morning the local temperature was minus 14 degrees it appears the compact ice area was not sanded and the contractor knew there was ice in the area because they told the public they had treated the area from the information we have the chemical will not work at temps below – degrees, so do we have a zamboni system that make the compact ice more slippery instead of applying sand there is too much ice on road across BC and several major accidents where the root cause is called by the R.C.M.P. as icy maybe the road should be shut down and allow time to distribute sand, the highways ministry should be ashamed of the detioration of the road safety standards set in the era before privatization where profits were unheard of just wages and concern for the safety of drivers and lowest I.C.B.C. costs, to spend a few dollars on a load of sand to prevent a 2 to 3 million dollar accident is a good investment contactor should pay a portion of the settlement cost that would provide some incentive to lower the accident risk and reduce the risk of pain and suffering and the proven loss of life with shoddy road maintenence

    • Hi Robert,

      We were also saddened to hear the news as the safety of the travelling public is our first concern. The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure takes its commitment to provide a safe, reliable transportation network very seriously, and the performance of our maintenance contractors is an essential part of this commitment. We set performance specifications consistent with other jurisdictions across North America, and we hold our contractors responsible for the services they deliver. Our maintenance contracts are intended to provide a safe level of winter maintenance and include provisions for storm preparation and clean-up. It is not to their benefit in any way to skimp on materials. The liabilities for failing to perform their work to the contractual standards exceed any gain from shorting materials. The contractors are required to provide specific levels of resources and to plan and allocate these resources effectively.
      Local ministry staff actively patrol our roads and highways to ensure our maintenance contractors are out in sufficient force and that they use all of the available tools appropriately, including sand, salt and snow removal equipment. Senior Ministry staff regularly audit contractor performance to ensure they are meeting our strict specifications and work with them to quickly resolve any issues that arise.

  7. not happy with Interior Roads service level in the 97 highway corridor between Clinton and Williams Lake. I understand that it was an extreme event but to let the highway get so rough I wonder if the contractor was over whelmed. I’m not sure if they can’t get people to work for them, or don’t have the equipment to get the job done, but it was a mess. Letting ice build up so bad is a sign to me that something isn’t working.

    • Hi Irvin,
      Thanks for letting us know your concern. We have shared it forward with the local area manager for review but also encourage you to send your message directly to the contractor as well. Calls are logged and tracked to ensure compliance by the ministry that way as well.

      Interior Roads LTD.
      1212 McGill Road
      Kamloops, BC., V2C 6N6

      Toll Free

      100 Mile House

      Williams Lake

  8. The way the current models B.C. of highways maintenance contracts are designed put for profit contractors in an impossible conflict of interest postion.
    My understanding is that winter maintenance is paid out as routine work and not quantified. Contractors are paid at a negotiated monthly rate regardless of the amount of winter maintenance performed. Obliviously a contractor would prefer that it that no trucks or graders had every to leave the yard. But of course, in winter they do leave the yard everyday as they must. The ministries monitoring of contractors to insure that they are meeting the very specific standards set out in all the highways contracts, while looking good on paper, are in the real world impossible to administer. Road conditions can and do, especially in the mountains, change very quickly. Short of put an inspector in every unit, the ministry has no way of knowing whether or not the standards are being meet at the time that the plow truck or patrol vehicle, passing over that section of road.
    Yes,under privatization equipment has improved, capacities are larger, trucks are faster and graders are bigger, but full time crew sizes are smaller, considerably smaller. In many areas, half the size that they were pre-privatization levels.The labour model now relies heavily on a “on call” work force that is called in during storms or perhaps ahead of a large predicted storm . Qualified on call personal are difficult for contractors retain for many reasons. Uncertain hours of work and poor pay ( new employees start at 80% wages)just being part of it.. Experienced and highly skilled (driving a plow truck in severe winter conditions is a extraordinarily demanding job) at full rate pay are difficult to find for full time employment, ask any trucking company.
    Unemployed experienced large highway snowplow drivers with good credentials, in the winter time do not exist.
    In the 70’s and early 80’s I drove tractor trailer unit between Vancouver and Castlegar 16 nights a month. Any night that there was even an outside chance of any snowfall or a developing black ice situation there would be a small single axle orange and white plow/sand truck parked on the side the road. I remember seeing them parked at the summits of the Blueberry/Paulson , at Eholt between Greenwood and Grandforks, on the Anarchist summit, Sunday Summit, Allison Pass and usually at the Hope slide pull-out. Every night. The truckers C.B. talk used make old jokes of the Dept of holidays sleeping units were in place and working hard. While we joked about them we appreciated that they were there, all the time, just encase condition changed.
    During all those years and over a million miles on that run I only remember one night of black ice conditions similar to the road conditions the lead to the tragic the deaths of the three people between Moyie and Yahk on Saturday morning last week. Would have that black ice developed if there was a truck patrolling that highway? Would have those lives been lost? Of course it is impossible for certain to say, really, its not even fair to ask the question.
    However,.. what is a certain is under the current system, had there been and plow truck driver that had patrolled that section highway, on that morning, finding a wet road, with clear skies,at near, but above freezing temps,( the common way black ice forms) would have he applied salt/sand? knowing that any materiel application and usage will cost his employer money, and he will be asked to asked about his material usage at the end of his shift, and justify those usages.. Had he salted that road and and temps stayed above freezing, no black ice would have occurred,and the operator had just removed a thousand dollars or so from his employers profit line. Naturally, no employer wants that, who does? This is the dilemma created by the current privatized highways maintenance system.
    Although it is far to late to put the Jennie back in the bottle, we have gone far too far down the road for ministry to take back hwy. maintenance,…. but…. would the ministry at least consider taking some on the conflict out the equation by supplying the contractors with the materials?
    Surely the ministry can negotiate better prices on sand, salt and de-icing chemicals than small individual contractors can, . Those savings would likely offset the
    higher material usage.
    I believe contractors would be more proactive if it didn’t cost them so much, and lives might be saved, at less cost to the tax payer. Win Win ?

    I’m very interested to hear the ministries position on this…

    • Hello Dex and thanks for your comments and concerns shared here. We sent it forward to our maintenance folks who let us know that the ministry has looked at the cost benefit of acquiring materials more than once and for more than just the Road & Bridge winter maintenance materials. While it can be argued that bulk purchase and consistency in material type is certainly attractive, the down side has far greater risks. The Road & Bridge contracts are performance based. This includes the need for contractor to supply all the materials, equipment and labour to undertake the work to the specifications in the contract. Removing materials transfers significant risk back to the province and the taxpayer.
      Any aberration or deficiency in the material quality or supply would give the contractor grounds to abrogate responsibility for performing to the contractual standards. The contractors do use different materials according to local needs and they do test & trial (before using on the highway) new materials such as beet juice and liquid additives that have proven to improve safety on the highway. Bulk purchases and central supply would inhibit these improvements. We understand that the contractors themselves have already formed groups to bulk purchase and distribute some materials such as salt & brine so changing to a government bulk purchase for these materials would not achieve any further savings. We truly appreciate your insight to road maintenance in BC and assure you that we are constantly monitoring contract road maintenance performance and we are working with and continuously encouraging contractors to look for better ways to make roads as safe as possible.

  9. to BC, trucking association
    you may use this information in the quest for black pavement in BC
    attached is a exerpt from the highways ministry Road runner magazine 1979 where the Late Merle Sproule regional highways engineer Nelson Region was receiving the Ministers safety award for the lowest accident rate in B.C presented by R.G Harvey deputy minister , under the watch of Merle Sproule he directed his 9 district managers to hire and train operators to staff winter operations with snowplowing and salt and sand applications for 24 7 hr operations from Oct 01 to march 31 each year and used the maintainence management standards to achieve black roads operations in winter to lessen the risks associated with vehicle accidents and lessen personal injury

    now all the govt equipment has been sold off for 25 cents on the dollar and we have contracts across B.C. to maintain the Public safety on the roads systems as a retired 35 year highways worker see the constant lowering of crew sizes and the cutback of the useage of sand which of course costs money, and in its place see a replacement of sand with liquid chemical de icers, which are cheap and put more dollars into the contractors pockets, the problems with using liquid de icers are
    sand must also be used to maintain traction for vehicles and accident prevention
    Chemicals re freeze and can become glare ice and if sand is not available the whole road system becomes the longest skating rink in the world we have seen Busses ff road, Semi Trailers laying on their sides and many many vehicle acidents where vehicle are off road due to the glare ice conditions which are difficult for the best trained drivers But guess what the sand trucks are always spreading sand around the accident scene, we have lost the accident prevention thinking in the main highway systems in B.C. and it has been replaced with a system that allows cheap seats
    customer dissatisfaction,increased accidents increased I.C.B.C. costs , and provides a money pit being mined by contractors by cutting back on the uses of manpower, equipment and salt and sand applications which is an insult to the late Merle Sproule who would roll over in his grave if he could see the thousands of accidents created by cutting back on the standards that he set in place as a mater of due course
    time to return to black road policies established by road engineers the pioneers of road maintainence history

    R .E Johnson retired 35 year highway worker

    • Hello Mr. Johnston and thank you for your comment. We shared your feedback with our maintenance area staff who told us that many things have changed since the “old days”, including: more frequent and extreme weather and storm events (such as ice storms), greater traffic volumes etc.
      Liquid de-icers have been in use for more than 30 years, but are becoming more commonly used because they are much more effective at breaking the ice pavement bond than sand/salt mixes. They can be applied more evenly across the road surface and do not get blown off the road by passing trucks like sand does which means they remain in place until needed. There is a science to applying de-icers (to avoid dropping temperatures), but that was the same with salt.

      In the 1970s, we had larger crews driving smaller trucks. These were slower one-tonne trucks which could not hold nearly the amount of sand the new tandem and tri-axle trucks can hold (5-8 M3). The new trucks also plow at greater speeds and allow for more efficient crew sizes and deployment. The current contracts do not limit the hours or the effort the contractors must employ to meet the clear road standards. If necessary they will be in 24/7 mode and hire additional private trucks and equip them with plows and sanders to meet the conditions.

      Hope that this helps clarify some of the questions you have. Thanks again for connecting with us here.

      • My territory for work is from Creston to Elkford to Golden. In the last 2 or 3 years I have noticed a decline in road maintenance. Also many more accidents and fatalities. Sudden and severe weather changes is definitely part of it. Some of the accidents are from road maintenance, and some from speed. Posting lower speed limit in the Kootenay mountain roads in the winter may help.
        Years ago I had a friend that did road maintenance and he was done before people got out on the roads. The roads were all cleared when I would leave to go out of town. I leave sometimes at 7 am and the roads have not been touched. I have driven on sheer ice and slush. I am under the understanding that shifts start at 5 am . Do they not work around the clock any more? and if they cant get to all the roads maybe the territory they have to look after is too large. Are more workers and more trucks needed?
        And my biggest beef is ” NO SAND ” . I keep hearing over and over that the liquid solution does not work in the East Kootenays! So why use it ? I would like to see more sand please! And roads cleared earlier in the morning! Thanks

        • Thanks for your comment Yvonne, we will share it forward with the local area manager for review. You are right, climate change is increasing the number of sudden and severe weather we see and speed limits are set for ideal driving conditions (winter driving conditions are not ideal!). Our maintenance contractors are on call 24/7 and bring in extra staff during weather events to keep highways clear.

      • The highways ministry in the 1988 era and before we’re using 4 and 5 ton single axle and tandem axle and tandem 6 wheel drive units fully equipped to plow and sand and required speeds if the now has bigger and better units why is the performance below what the ministry did show us better performance by plowing and sanding as the govt operated crews did before privatization

        • Hi Robert,

          The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure takes its commitment to provide a safe, reliable transportation network very seriously, and the performance of our maintenance contractors is an essential part of this commitment. We set performance specifications consistent with other jurisdictions across North America, and we hold our contractors responsible for the services they deliver. Our maintenance contracts are intended to provide a safe level of winter maintenance and include provisions for storm preparation and clean-up. It is not to their benefit in any way to skimp on materials. The liabilities for failing to perform their work to the contractual standards exceed any gain from shorting materials. The contractors are required to provide specific levels of resources and to plan and allocate these resources effectively.
          Local ministry staff actively patrol our roads and highways to ensure our maintenance contractors are out in sufficient force and that they use all of the available tools appropriately, including sand, salt and snow removal equipment. Senior Ministry staff regularly audit contractor performance to ensure they are meeting our strict specifications and work with them to quickly resolve any issues that arise.

  10. Variable speed corridors

    On paper these are a great idea, as long as they are constantly updated to meet conditions, and they are not being updated frequently enough. Fixed signs are met with common sense, you can’t safely drive 100kph on solid ice, so people generally don’t, but I notice the general public reads a variable sign as ‘how fast I should drive today’ and it supercedes their common sense. I notice very poor updating of these signs at night and on weekends. Whose job is it to reduce speeds? Further, why is ‘drive BC’ updated so infrequently? People have to turn to social media for some idea of current road conditions, maybe you guys should integrate or monitor the facebook and twitter sites to help you keep on top of this.

    • Hello Dan! Thanks for your questions.

      Regarding the Variable Speed Limit system – the field equipment and sensors constantly feed our sophisticated software with data. This happens several times a minute for some of the devices. When a change in conditions is detected the software grabs the attention of the operator and suggests the new speed limit based on the real time road conditions. The operator would respond to this change to either verify it and approve it within several minutes, sometimes within seconds. The software is monitored 24/7 and the speed limits are always up to date.

      Regarding updates on DriveBC and online monitoring – the staff at DriveBC constantly monitor twitter and other social platforms to stay aware of current issues and road condition and closure information is posted on DriveBC as it happens and updated as and when those conditions change.

      We hope that this helps answer your concerns.

  11. So when snowfall leads to icy roads in conditions above -9 celcius, and the trans canada isn’t cleared after over 48 hours with no additional precipitation, is there any penalty? What is the system of accountability when these people don’t do their job? Driving between Salmon arm and Revelstoke twice a week, road maintenance is well below pre-privatization standards. We’re being killed out there.

    • Hi Dan,

      Thank you for your comment. We spoke with the local area manager about your concerns and he confirmed that we will be issuing non-conformance reports for failure to meet certain contract requirements during this storm event. We will continue to closely monitor the contractor in future events to see that they meet their contractual obligations.

  12. the maintennance of roads in our area of the Juan De fuca regional district has deteriorated to the point of being A BAD JOKE. Where we once saw maintennance equipment and crews we now see shinny pickup trucks and only getting repairs done after many complaints. Because of lack of maintennance our roads requiring constant repairs. People are fed up with Mainroad contracting and would like to see them replaced with a contractor that can do the job they are paid to do.

    • Hi Wally,

      Thanks for connecting with us here and sharing your concern. We have sent your comment forward to the local area manager for review.

  13. Lets see if this plan actually works, so far government contractors have repeatedly found ways to justify expensive job descriptions while reaping unlimited profits without ever meeting the full scope of the contracts.
    A simple example is tiring tow trucks for nominal sub=contractor rates from their friends, while still billing the full rate to the taxpayer.
    It’s time the government conducted a 100% independent review into the performance aspects of each contractor before considering awarding contracts to huge monopolies made up largely of former government employees, yes you know who they are…
    Taxpayers are tired of being raped by so called crown corporations, pet contractors and other’s who’s sole interest is to take the taxpayer for yet another ride.
    Lets see safety not slither! Cut costs not services…

  14. In the peace country , threre have been numerous passing lanes installed , but when it snows a little or a lot the fast lane is NEVER cleared . CRS should be made to do the whole road , or what is the point of installing all these passing lanes ?

    • Hi Chris,

      Thanks for connecting with us here and sharing your concern. Is there somewhere specifically in this area you are concerned about or are you just concerned generally with the clearing done by Cariboo Road Services?

  15. looks like an advertising campaign how many on site contract enforcement staff are on ministry staff to ensure the standards are met in line with public safety

    • Hello,

      Thanks for connecting with us here. We have sent your question forward to the local area manager for review.

    • Hello,

      There are currently 5 area managers on staff to monitor the performance of the maintenance contractor in this area.