Your Most Popular BC Winter Maintenance Questions, Answered

Winter driving and highway maintenance in BC got you worried?

Don’t fret – we’re on it.

We take our commitment to provide a safe, reliable transportation network very seriously, and the performance of our maintenance contractor is an essential part of this focus. Sometimes, when winter rears its head on BC highways, we’ll hear from travellers asking questions about our winter maintenance requirements. You may have your thoughts on the how and the why – here’s the official word from us.

Highway maintenance during this storm was not enough. Where were your contractors? I drove from here to there and didn’t see a plow the entire time! 

Highway maintenance was better before privatization in 1988 

Your contractors are skimping on salt/sand! 

What are you doing to make sure maintenance contractors are meeting their contractual obligations? 

I often see plows driving around with their blade up. What good does that do?

Why aren’t the roads “plowed to black” during the winter?

Highway maintenance during this storm was not enough. Where were your contractors? I drove from here to there and didn’t see a plow the entire time!

Our maintenance contracts are intended to provide a safe level of winter maintenance and include provisions for storm preparation and clean-up. They are also required to provide specific levels of resources, like equipment, personnel and road maintenance supplies, and to plan and allocate these resources effectively. We set performance specifications consistent with other jurisdictions across North America, and we hold our contractors responsible for the services they deliver.

It is important to stress that BC highways have different winter maintenance classifications depending on their traffic volumes and location. Busier and more geographically challenging routes (such as the Coquihalla) have a shorter allowable time frame for plowing cycles; while less busy highways and sideroads have a longer allowable time frame.

This means that, unless a traveller was stationary for 1 ½ – 4 hours, they might not see any maintenance vehicles working on the road, when in actual fact, a maintenance vehicle could be right behind them on the road, or just ahead – depending where they are in their patrol. Ministry staff also actively patrol our roads and highways to make sure our maintenance contractors are out in enough force and using all available tools appropriately, including sand, salt and snow removal equipment to keep travellers moving safely.

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 – operating around the clock – and hire additional private trucks and equip them with plows and sanders to meet the conditions.

A snowblower clears snow roadside on the Coquihalla shortly after it opened in 1986.
A snowblower clears snow roadside on the Coquihalla shortly after it opened in 1986.

Highway maintenance was better before privatization in 1988

One thing we hear regularly is “highway maintenance in BC was better in the old days (pre-privatization).” We’re the first to admit that a lot of things have changed since the “old days” – some things for the better (mullets anyone?!) One thing that has certainly improved are the tools we use to battle winter weather on BC highways. Here are a few:

  • Maintenance Vehicles
    During the 1960s and 1970s, we had more crews because we also had smaller maintenance vehicles. These were slower one-tonne trucks which could not hold nearly the amount of sand that newer tandem and tri-axle trucks can hold. Modern trucks also plow at greater speeds and allow for more efficient crew sizes and deployment. We also use cool tools, like the tow plow, to get the job done in one go.
  • Road Weather Stations and Intelligent Transportation Systems
    Back in the late 1970’s, a handful of independent weather stations were used to send weather information to our offices. Since that time, our weather monitoring program has grown into a sophisticated network of environmental road weather sensing stations that help us monitor and respond to changing road conditions. We also use this data to transmit important information to motorists through our Variable Speed Limit Systems and Dynamic Message Signs. This helps drivers make informed decisions about when and where they should go.That being said – some things have changed for the worse. Today, we see more frequent and extreme weather events, not to mention more traffic volume on the road. As a part of B.C.’s Climate Adaptation Strategy, we’re working with other key players to understand exactly what climate change might mean to our infrastructure and identifying ways we can adapt in response.

Your contractors are skimping on salt/sand!

Our maintenance contractor crews apply salt, salt brines, anti-icing agents and abrasives (sand or small aggregate) or combinations thereof to address conditions based on current and anticipated weather conditions throughout the day. They watch weather forecasts closely and use their local knowledge of specific areas to determine when, how much and where they apply them. During their patrols, they also monitor and respond to slippery conditions as required. 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.

Snow plow on BC highway
Snowplow at work on BC highway

What are you doing to make sure maintenance contractors are meeting their contractual obligations?

Ministry staff regularly monitor and audit contractor performance in addition to communicating with them on a daily basis. We have a comprehensive quality plan to assess the performance of our contractors. It involves monitoring hundreds of records and audits, to determine whether contractors are meeting the maintenance specifications. The maintenance contract includes tools to address “non-conformance”, through escalating intervention measures based on the seriousness of the “non-conformance”. Some of the tools include “non-conformance” reports and notices to comply.

This intensive monitoring occurs at all hours both during storms and between significant weather events. The contractor is required to keep records to demonstrate compliance with the maintenance specifications and to have a quality control and a quality assurance program to demonstrate they’re meeting the contract requirements.

If monitoring shows deficiencies in performance or response, ministry staff will work with the contractor to ensure they quickly improve and deliver quality maintenance and safe highway conditions. Penalties can result from a continuous inability to meet our maintenance specifications. If the contractor regularly fails to address non-conformances, they can lose points in their performance “audit” which may lead to loss of their contractor assessment performance payment, which is up to two per cent of the full value of the contract. At times, the weather and road conditions can change quickly. When this happens, both ministry staff and our maintenance contractors follow up to ensure specified patrol timeframes were met. Senior ministry staff regularly audit contractor performance to ensure contractors are meeting our strict specifications and work with them to swiftly resolve any issues.

I often see plows driving around with their blade up. What good does that do?

At times, a front plow blade may be up in a “v” shape – that choice is determined by the volume of snow they are pushing, what’s on the side of the road (front plows do a lot of damage to fences and structures close to the edge of the road) and the fact that they can put a lot more “down pressure” using the underbody plow (rather than the front plow) when stripping ice off the road. “High blading” may also occur when a truck is in need of repair or the plow blades have worn out. In some instances, a plow blade may be up when the truck is applying abrasives or chemicals, however most trucks these days are set up to release these materials behind the attached plows.

Why aren’t the roads “plowed to black” during the winter?

Before, during and after winter storm events, our maintenance contractors are out in full force doing everything they can to keep BC highways clear and open. If necessary, they will be in 24/7 mode and hire additional private trucks and equip them with plows and sanders to tackle the conditions. It is important to remind travellers that winter on BC mountain passes is a powerful beast, and snow accumulation can happen rapidly, often covering highways quickly after the plows go past. Even with all those resources working to clear the roads, it isn’t realistic to expect the roads to be bare and black during a storm.

Our maintenance contracts require that maintenance contractors get their roads “back to black” – but that expectation varies depending on the type of road and the amount of snowfall. For example: the maximum accumulation allowed on a Class A highway (like the Trans Canada Highway) is four centimetres in one lane, up to eight centimetres in the second lane, and all other lanes up to 12 centimetres before it must be plowed.

It is imperative that drivers understand and realize they are responsible for adjusting their speeds to match the conditions as they travel, if the road condition is anything less than bare and dry. Learn more about our winter maintenance highway classifications and the related maintenance contractor requirements.

See something that concerns you while travelling BC highways?

The fastest way to attend to the problem or raise awareness of an issue is to tell our maintenance contractor directly. Our contractors are required to keep records of public concerns and this helps us during our auditing process to ensure the contractor is responsive to any problems brought to their attention. Here’s a list of our maintenance contractors and the ways you can connect with them to communicate your concerns. Do you have a question about winter maintenance on BC highways, or anything else we do? Let us know in the comments below.

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Page 1 of 36 comments on “Your Most Popular BC Winter Maintenance Questions, Answered”

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  1. why is it year after the stretch of hwy 5between valemont and blue river is at times a skating rink no sand nothing very seldom do you see a plow sand truck out trying to improve the road I travel this road every week mothing has changed get to wire cache rest stop road is fown to black pavement the chatter on the vhf is the road maintenance is a joke

    • Hi there Dan,

      Thanks for connecting with us here to share your concerns. We will share your feedback forward with our staff in the area for their information. Have your shared this concern with the maintenance contractor directly? In the future, we ask that if you ever notice a concern on BC Highways, that you reach out to our maintenance contractor directly. This ensures the concern is captured in their logs, which we review during our regular auditing processes. Here’s the contact information for our contractor in your area:
      Service Area 15 – Thompson (Kamloops)

      Argo Road Maintenance (Thompson) Inc
      1 800 661-2025

      Twitter: @Argo_Thompson
      Facebook: @ArgoRoadsThompson
      Instagram: @argoroads
      YouTube: N/A

      Ministry contact:
      Thompson-Nicola District Office – 250 828-4002

  2. We live in Burns Lake area on Beach Road. We received 17 cm of snow on the 13th of November. At the present time, Nov 17 13:00 LDM still has not plowed or applied traction control as required by the contract. As we have grades on the road that are close to 10% we find their lack of action disgraceful. We experienced the same unacceptable performance from them all last winter including not keeping the compact to the required maximum standard; not plowing the road to full width, and just not plowing the road for days after a snowfall. We have talked to LDM numerous time and they have not come close to achieving compliance with the standards, including summer maintenance. I have asked them to issue themselves NCR’s for not doing what they are being paid for but all I get is ” we are doing our Job” which is “BS” . When will the Ministry take them to task and fire their sorry asses and get a reliable contractor in this District.

    • Hello Rick – thanks for taking the time to share your concerns with us here. We are also glad to hear you have been sharing your concerns with the maintenance contractor directly as they are required to log all incoming concerns. Our staff review these logs during audits of their performance. If you still have concerns about their performance, we ask that you reach out to our staff in the Burns Lake area office for follow up. Here is the contact info:

      Lakes Area
      161 – Hwy 16 Box 3500
      Burns Lake, BC V0J 1E0
      250 692-7161

  3. We live in Little Fort British. Columbia. The road cleanup has been completely ignored .we are fed up with asking Argo to do thier job .we have a burn of road sand a foot and a half tall in front of our business and residents it’s been three years we have been being told it would be cleaned up.It seems the contractor is not living up to its duties. It has crated a dust bowl problem for the whole community. We all have burns in front of our homes .several properties are having flooding when it rains due to the damping effect of not removing winter sand debris. There’s no 4% grade in large portions of roadway and the towns folk feel it is past time to perform the cleanup Argo promised us the last three years it would be cleaned up. They showed up to do the work and left a bigger mess then was thier to begin with .It has made it impossible to maintain as it is destroying our lawn tractor.As well as the tractor at our community hall. This is not acceptable in any way broken promises every year . Work not completed . It’s time someone came out from over Argos head to have a look at the level of incompetents we are dealing with. They aren’t maintaining a 4% grade and have turned our town into a dust bowl after many years of neglect.

    • Hi Richard,

      I’m sorry to hear you are not happy with the quality of spring road maintenance in Little Fort. I have relayed your concerns to our local operations manager who oversees the maintenance contractor. Thank you for reporting to us here.

  4. Apparently Merritt to Kamloops has yet to be plowed (2:30pm Wed 23/12)… service is poor. What justification is there to contract with a private Italian road outfit that takes profits from BC public funds to provide inadequate services?!

  5. Hello,
    Where can information be found about required staffing levels and equipment allocation per yard of each Service Area? Specially what the contractor said they were going to provide in their RFP. Is it readily available or is it necessary to file a FOI request. Thanks

  6. I was wondering if there was still a maximum number regions that road maintenance contractors could service. Previously that number was 5 – I was curious if that has changed?

  7. i work for contractor in the fraser vally that intends to moniter 16 out of 24 hours a day to cut back on exta staff and have two four hour breaks to make it work if that happens they aee relying on overtime to cover the emty spaces, that will not work because people have lives your comments please

  8. Regarding National Parks (especially Hwy93S Kootenay). Why are there no postings or repercussions to people parking on the side of the road in National Parks when you can clearly see plows trying to clear the road?? Especially when the ‘day use’ areas are just meters away? It just seems to put absolutely everyone else in danger over this 1 vehicle that decided to go ski up a hill and park where ever!! It’s reckless of these drivers and they should not be ‘entitled’ to do this.

    • Hi Tammy,

      Thanks for sharing your concerns about motorists who create a highway hazard by parking along the sides of the road in national parks.

      National parks (and the roads that travel through them) are under the jurisdiction of the Government of Canada. (We’re the province of BC).

      I suggest that you share your concerns with Parks Canada. These are their contact numbers for highway maintenance concerns. (While your concern is not purely a maintenance one, perhaps they can respond to you or direct you to people responsible for the highways’ operations). For Revelstoke and Glacier National Parks, contact Parks Canada at 1-250-837-7500. For Yoho and Kootenay National Parks, call Park Canada’s Banff dispatch at 1-888-927-3367.

  9. Once again we are stopped 31kms from Revelstoke BC, due to an accident! Are the roads taken care of?? Absolutely not! The condition of the #1 Hwy, changed at the BC Alberta border. We seen 1 Plow truck, parked on the side of the road from BC/AB Border to almost Revelstoke, the slush is pathetic, no wonder why the poor truckers and 4 wheelers are so frustrated!
    What an embarrassment for whoever is in control of our road maintenance program,if you can call it that. Can’t the government make a change, after all this is our main artery through Canada!!

  10. I think given the severity and the amount of snow in such a short time this year, certainly in our area taken care of by YRB (West Kootenay outside of Nelson) that people forget that a plow or equipment can not be every where at once. I think rather perhaps it is people’s patience that has changed. We live on a side road up the side of a mountain and very seldom do we have to wait more than a day or two maybe three to get plowed, sure if we have had a big dump of snow it may take longer but all around I think they do a pretty amazing job. They are much like first responders and they are men and women with families like everyone else and there they are out in the worst of weather trying their best to make it safe for the rest of us. A little encouragement will go a lot further than a lot of complaining.. just saying..

  11. Also as to Harrop Procter there are so many weird lumps in the accumulated snow that some low clearance vehicles or those with marginal shocks, because it is so bumpy, cannot travel at all, an no sand…… this a week after most of the snow came down. It is literally so slippery under the snow and especially where there are relatively bare patches, as the first snows were not sanded nor salted and melted then froze , that I’ve fallen twice on the main road through here, walking my dog. If I did not have a 4 wheel drive high clearance truck, I could not even get out and provide the (designated) essential service to the East Shore of Kootenay lake, that I do.

    • Hi Andre, thank you for bringing your concern to the Ministry’s attention. The large amount of snowfall along with very cold temperatures followed by a sudden increase in temperatures has caused areas with rutting compact conditions. Local MoTI staff and the maintenance contractor are aware of the road conditions in the Harrop/Proctor area and have deployed resources to restore traction to the road. If you have any further concerns please do not hesitate to contact your local maintenance contractor’s office (YRB Kootenay) at 250-352-3242.

  12. First, days go by without any sand when it is so slippery that it is dangerous to even walk e.g. even on Highway 3a around Nelson, never mind Harrop Procter Rd. Furthermore as I understand it unless there is a minimum grade or curve many areas never get sanded….this is madness and makes it unsafe even for essential services….e.g. when a fire truck literally cannot make it to a fire which actually happens.

    • Hi Andre, thank you for bringing your concern to the Ministry’s attention. The large amount of snowfall along with very cold temperatures followed by a sudden increase in temperatures has caused areas with rutting compact conditions. Local MoTI staff and the maintenance contractor are aware of the road conditions in the Harrop/Proctor area and have deployed resources to restore traction to the road. If you have any further concerns please do not hesitate to contact your local maintenance contractor’s office (YRB Kootenay) at 250-352-3242.”

    • Hi Bryce,

      Due to a more temperate winter climate in the Lower Mainland and southeastern Vancouver Island, drivers are not required to use winter tires in many areas along the coast. We strongly recommend that if drivers are travelling outside of the Lower Mainland area, that they use winter rated, mountain snowflake tires.

  13. I have lived between Lumby and Vernon for over a decade now & have never seen such poor plowing and roads as this year. It is as if the contractors do not know what they are doing and are slow to do it. This is the first year I’ve lived here that Whitevale road and sometimes even highway 6 were not plowed we fore the school buses arrive in the morning. Even the local professional drivers seem to be having difficulties with the atrocious road conditions ( see comments and video on the “around the block Lumby“ and “ Lumby and area weather and road conditions “ Facebook pages … ) NOBODY here seems to be happy with the roads this year .

    • Hello Tammy,

      Thank you for your message. We encourage you to share your concerns directly with the maintenance contractor as this will help ensure your concerns are logged and responded to in a timely fashion. We also shared your comment with local area staff and they are aware of concerns in this area. We’re continually monitoring the contractor to ensure they are meeting our maintenance specifications. Both Whitevale and Highway 6 have been monitored during and after recent snowfalls.

  14. I am concerned that the new contractor for road maintenance and snow plowing in Coalmont is not doing their job; AIM Roads has not had one single plow on the streets of Coalmont since the big snowfall in late December. The main roads are ok, but the residential streets are not.

    • Hello Cecil – thank you for your comment.

      We encourage you to contact AIM directly with your concerns, so that they can attend to the issue directly. They are required to log all incoming concerns for response and this record is also helpful during our auditing process (which is done regularly by ministry staff to make sure our contractors are fulfilling their obligations).
      Twitter: @AimRoads
      Facebook: @AIMRoads

      If you would also like to share your concern with our local area staff they can be reached at our area office:

      Penticton Area
      102 Industrial Place
      Penticton, BC V2A 7C8
      Telephone: 250 490-8200

  15. Whoever has the maintenance contract from Avola to Little Fort should be fired. They have left patches of ice and then clear spaces that leave ruts in the road. Half a lane clear and other half with several inches of ice leaving uneven pavement for kilometre in end it may have caused another driver we saw to have a flat tire and he went off the road. We have never seen road conditions like this . The roads were fine from Jasper to Avola. These conditions are extremely dangerous.

    • Hi Brian. Thank you for sharing your feedback. I sent your report to our local operations manager who is responsible for monitoring the performance of the maintenance contractor, which is Argo Road Maintenance (Thompson) Inc.: 1 800 661-2025

  16. I can’t remember what day it was, but I drove across the Monashee pass from Needles to Vernon last winter for a medical appointment and the road was compact snow with a solid ice glaze and no sand. When I drove back several hours later, the road hadn’t still been touched.

    When you encounter conditions like this, it’s *really* hard to believe your answer to the question “What are you doing to make sure maintenance contractors are meeting their contractual obligations?”

    • I’m sorry to hear about your experience driving the Monashee Pass last winter. It’s difficult to speak to this particular event, since it was so long ago. However, the new maintenance contract for this service area began June 1, 2019 – well after your experience. 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.