How BC Highway Maintenance Contracts Have Changed for the Better

Maintenance Contractor Service Area Map
Maintenance Contractor Service Area Map

Now that the dust has settled (and been swept, of course!) on most* of the BC highway maintenance contract renewal process, let’s review the new specifications and the maintenance contractors that are taking them on. * The last remaining contract renewal – Service Area 20 (Robson) – goes to tender mid-2020.

Good news: the new BC highway maintenance contracts for all service areas require higher standards and a more proactive approach to severe weather.

Before we explore the changes, it’s important for readers to understand the different highway classifications. To learn more, read our blog: The ABCs of Winter Highway Classification and Maintenance.

Here are some notable improvements in the new contracts, at a glance:

A bit more detail on a few of these:

Back to Bare Pavement After a Storm

Class A highways (think major routes such as the Trans-Canada and Coquihalla) must be returned to bare pavement within 24 hours of a winter weather event ending at temperatures of -9 C or warmer (during colder temperatures, deicing material can become less effective). The previous standard was 48 hours.

Other classes received improvements, too; for example, Class B roads went from three days to 36 hours, and Class C roads tightened up from seven days to 48 hours.

We should note: the previous specifications did not differentiate between pavement temperatures below and at/above -9 C.

A table outlining BC Highway Maintenance Contractor Specifications on Response Time by Highway Classification

Yellowhead Road and Bridge clears snow on the Coquihalla after a record snowfall in December 2019
Yellowhead Road and Bridge clears snow on the Coquihalla after a record snowfall in December 2019

In Consideration of Compact

An entirely new specification centres around “compact,” which is defined as “snow, slush or ice that has been compressed to form a solid mass.” When low temperatures lead to compact on the road surface, maintenance contractors must keep it smooth and under 40 mm in thickness. If pavement temperatures remain colder than -9 C, the compact can remain until pavement temperatures are -9 C and warming.

BC highway maintenance contractor specification table outlining response times by highway classification

How Much Snow is Too Much?

For routine winter maintenance, there is a maximum amount of snow that can be on the highway before it must be cleared. Maintenance contractors must remove winter accumulations from travelled lanes as follows:

BC Highway Maintenance Contractor Specification Table outlining Maximum Allowable Accumulation Response by Highway Classification

On Patrol

The previous contracts had separate patrol standards for winter classifications, which are classified by letter (“A” being highest priority), and summer classifications, which are classified by number (1+2 being highest priority). In the new contracts, year-round patrol frequencies are based on the summer classification and adjusted based on weather conditions.

We increased patrol frequency to 90 minutes on Class 1+2 highways during weather events. The previous standard for Class A highways was four hours.

When a weather event is forecasted, patrol frequency is increased to four hours. The previous standard was 24 hours.

BC Highway Maintenance Contractor Specification Table outlining Response Time and Patrol by Highway Classification

A More Proactive Approach

Of course, safety patrolling is just one way our contractors monitor and evaluate highway surface temperatures and conditions. Other methods include consulting Road Weather Information System (RWIS) information and weather forecasts in order to anticipate weather events. Contractors are required to use this information to be more proactive, mobilizing equipment and spreading anti-icing chemicals before expected poor winter road conditions hit – a new requirement.

Where’s that Plow?

We can keep better track of contractors now that maintenance equipment such as plow trucks, patrol vehicles and graders are required to have Automated Vehicle Location (AVL) tracking, which ministry staff has access to.

Clearing the Way for Bikes

Let us break away from winter maintenance for a sec. Cycling has exploded as a regular mode of transportation since the previous maintenance contracts were created. That’s why the new contracts include improved sweeping requirements for designated cycling paths.

Communication is Key

If you use social media, you may have engaged with our maintenance contractors online. Their social presence has grown now that the new contracts require each contractor to be active on at least two social media platforms, giving you more ways to connect – whether it’s reporting a highway problem or getting behind the scenes insights into road conditions and maintenance work being done.

Consult our maintenance contractor contact list to view their corresponding social media accounts.

An Instagram post from Emil Anderson Maintenance
An Instagram post from Emil Anderson Maintenance

Introducing… Your Highway Maintenance Contractors

The maintenance contractor changed in 11 of the new contracts. In some cases, a contractor swapped service areas with another. Here’s how the shuffle looks at this point:

  • SA01 (South Island): EMCON Services (new, replaced Mainroad)
  • SA02 (Central Island): Mainroad Mid-Island Contracting (new, replaced EMCON)
  • SA03 (North Island): Mainroad North Island Contracting (new, replaced EMCON)
  • SA04 (Howe Sound): Miller Capilano Highway Services (new, replaced Mainroad)
  • SA05 (Sunshine Coast): Capilano Highway Services Company (had previous contract)
  • SA06 (Lower Mainland): Mainroad Lower Mainland Contracting (had previous contract)
  • SA07 (Fraser Valley): Emil Anderson Maintenance Co. Ltd (had previous contract)
  • SA08 (South Okanagan): AIM Roads Inc. (new, replaced Argo Road Maintenance)
  • SA09 (Kootenay Boundary): Yellowhead Road & Bridge Kootenay Boundary (new, replaced EMCON)
  • SA10 (Central Kootenay): Yellowhead Road & Bridge Kootenay (had previous contract)
  • SA11 (East Kootenay): Mainroad East Kootenay (had previous contract)
  • SA12 (Selkirk): EMCON Services (had previous contract)
  • SA13 (Okanagan Shuswap): Acciona Road Maintenance (new, replaced JPW Road and Bridge Maintenance)
  • SA14 (Nicola): YRB (new, replaced VSA)
  • SA15 (Thompson): Argo Road Maintenance Thompson (had previous contract)
  • SA16 (South Cariboo): Dawson Road Maintenance (formerly known as Interior Roads)
  • SA17 (Central Cariboo): Dawson Road Maintenance (formerly known as Interior Roads)
  • SA18 (North Cariboo): EMCON Services (had previous contract)
  • SA19 (Fort George): Yellowhead Road & Bridge Fort George (had previous contract)
  • SA20 (Robson): Lakes District Maintenance (to tender mid-2020)
  • SA21 (South Peace): Argo Road Maintenance (new, replaced Caribou Road Services)
  • SA22 (North Peace): Dawson Road Maintenance (new, replaced Yellowhead Road & Bridge)
  • SA23 (Nechako): Yellowhead Road & Bridge (had previous contract)
  • SA24 (Lakes): Lakes District Maintenance (had previous contract)
  • SA25 (Bulkley/Nass): Dawson Road Maintenance (new, replaced Billabong)
  • SA26 (Skeena): Emil Anderson Maintenance Co. (assumed contract from Nechako Northcoast Construction, on July 27, 2020)
  • SA27 (North Coast): O’Brien Road & Bridge Maintenance (had previous contract)
  • SA28 (Stikine): Lakes District Maintenance (had previous contract)

More details about the highway maintenance contracts – value, start and end dates – can be found here.

And if you really want to get in depth, feel free to peruse all the highway maintenance specifications here. It’s especially helpful because it provides definitions for all key terms, such as “weather event.”

Got a winter maintenance question for us? Good chance it’s answered in our blog post Your Most Popular BC Winter Maintenance Questions, Answered. If not, you’re welcome to connect with us in the comments section below.

28 comments on “How BC Highway Maintenance Contracts Have Changed for the Better”

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  1. Our driveway provided access to Lougheed Hwy and during the rain storm on January 31st, the culvert overflowed and part of the driveway was eroded. I have contacted the contractor for this area and they informed me that I as the land owner is responsible for the repairs. I have also been told that there is emergency funding available if the cost is over $1,000. I have a contractor gathering a quote but was hoping someone could let me know if there is funding and if there is a link available that will help me with the application process to access this funding.

    Thanks for your help
    Logan Jorger

    Reply
    • Hello Logan – thanks for your message. We shared your comment with our local area staff and they will be reaching out to you directly at the email you provided here.

      Reply
  2. Curious why government has no appetite to go after contractors. What’s the point of having requirements if you dont hold them accountable.
    SA 23 is a prime example of a contractor that puts in the effort. And they got awarded for their efforts. But you look at any other SA along 16, and it’s just a joke. Literally can draw the line in the sand at the top of Preistly hill and west side of the bobtail overpass.
    Funny how the ministry can deny the difference when a drive from PG to burns lake shows you the stark difference area to area.
    Come on government, back your ministry and support the ministry staff. If one service area can be near perfect, the other ones can be as well

    Reply
    • Good morning Steve – thank you for your comment. We shared it with our local area staff, who let us know that all maintenance contractors have the same contractual obligations and requirements and our operations staff work closely with maintenance contractors to achieve those requirements; however, different contractors may operate and manage their resources, equipment and materials differently and with different techniques, processes and decisions. Unfortunately, during winter, these differences may be more noticeable at service area boundaries throughout the entire province (in some service area boundary locations there may also be climactic differences affecting differences observed). That being said, in this instance, the boundary at Bobtail Overpass is managed by the same company (YRB east and west). The service area boundary at Priestly Hill is two different contractors (YRB east and LDM west).

      If you ever notice anything that concerns you while driving BC highways, please report it directly to the contractor in charge of that area by using our report-a-highway tool.

      https://www.drivebc.ca/rahp/

      We hope that this helps – let us know if you have any other concerns.

      Reply
  3. The winter maintenance and plowing if roads this winter has been far below the standards posted. Worse plowing on highway 16 bulkley valley i gave experienced

    Reply
  4. Is there a link to what the classifications are for the individual highways in BC? Also our secondary highway is the only option up and down the east side of Kootenay Lake and becomes a primary highway whenever the Kootenay Pass is closed for avalanches or avalanche control. Does that make it a primary highway during those times?
    Thanks.

    Reply
    • Hi Dave,

      Thanks for your message. There is a map available, which you can use to identify winter and summer classifications of a BC Highway.

      It is not a very simple database of information, but it is the only tool currently available that provides this information. It is called imap

      We have created a set of instructions to get you to the classification you are looking for and you can find them below. Regarding your question about shifting of highway classifications during closures etc – we will send it forward to our staff and let you know what we hear back.

      IMAP BC Winter Classification Instructions

      1. Navigate to iMapBC at https://maps.gov.bc.ca/ess/hm/imap4m/
      2. Select the “Data Sources” tab
      3. Choose “Add Provincial Layers” button. A pop-up screen will appear asking you to add or remove information. Scroll down to and select “Transportation”
      4. Scroll to “Ministry of Transportation – Linear Inventory” and choose/select
      5. Scroll to “Road Maintenance Class Winter – MoT” and choose/select
      6. Click Okay to close pop up screen.
      7. Underneath the Data Sources tab, you will see a “My Layers” button. Select this tab.
      8. “Road Maintenance Class Winter – MoT” should appear with a check mark in the box beside it.
      9. To the right of this check mark is a small bullet list icon. Click/select this icon and the legend of Winter Classification letters, corresponding colours and details should appear underneath the layer title.
      10. Zoom into the area you are looking for on the map to the right to view the colour for your desired roadway
      11. Hint: you might have to scroll down to a very high level in order to see corresponding colour.
      If you do not see a colour revealed on a roadway, that road does not fall under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure and you should follow up with the municipality for more information.

      Here’s a list of what each letter on the legend represents:

      A. “WADC>5,000” = Weekly Average Daily Traffic Count greater than 5,000
      Highway Classification Class Definition A – high volume traffic (over 5,000 winter average daily traffic count) or commuter routes and certain expressways and freeways through mountain passes. For the purposes of Classification, a freeway is a multi-lane highway with fully controlled access. Class A are heavy commuter traffic routes extended to include the bulk of vehicles commuting daily to a center and cut-off where traffic drops below a 2,500 winter average daily traffic count. These include, but are not limited to, high volume ski hill and commuter routes;

      B. “WADC 1,000 to 5,000” = Weekly Average Daily Traffic Count between 1,000 to 5,000
      Highway Classification Class Definition B – trunk and main routes (or portion thereof as designated by the Province) not included in Class A, with a cut-off traffic volume of 1,000 winter average daily traffic count. These include but are not limited to lower volume ski hill and commuter routes;

      C. “SBR and TTR” = School Bus Route and Industrial (Truck) Traffic
      Highway Classification Class Definition C – school bus routes and industrial (truck) traffic routes (more than 25% trucks) not included in Class A and B;

      D. “Other regular”
      Highway Classification Class Definition D – other regularly maintained winter routes;

      E. “Other irregular”
      Highway Classification Class Definition E – other irregularly maintained winter routes;

      F. “No Winter Maintenance”
      Highway Classification Class Definition F – roads not maintained or not open in the winter, or not maintained by the Contractor.

      Reply
  5. Are the non-compliance and audit reports on Maintenance Contracts public information? (I’m guessing not and even a freedom of information request would be refused because of ‘commercial confidentiality’).

    Reply
      • Well I have submitted some FOI requests so I will find out. But if the information is not available how is the public supposed to find out if contractors are meeting the specifications and whether the Ministry is effectively enforcing them? Personally I don’t think a single percentage figure (covering all the service areas in the province) on an unexplained and obscure ‘rating of maintenance contractor performance using contractor assessment program’ in the annual Ministry Service Plan Report tells us anything worth knowing.

        Reply
          • My concerns are with the Ministry’s policy which, unless I am very mistaken, isn’t devolved to area managers.

          • Our most recent round of contract renewals also included changes in our specification requirements – is this the ministry policy you are referring to? The work which our area managers do in the field (monitoring and auditing included) was taken into consideration during the contract renewal process. If you would like to voice your concerns with any specific specification, we could share those concerns with the group responsible for the rewrite and they will note it for the next round of agreements; otherwise, you could talk to the maintenance contractor and/or the local area manager directly about your concerns, to see if they can address it locally.

  6. I wonder by what miracle compact snow surfaces are going to be kept free of holes and ruts? Yes, graders with ice blades can do some remediation, but they are slow and there would need to be a lot more of them to get close to keeping compact free of holes and ruts after major storms – especially when closures have had lots of heavy transports sitting on the compact for hours.

    Reply
    • Hi there Nick,

      Thanks for your comment.

      Ministry staff and our maintenance contractors travel the roads regularly, looking for problems. We also value reports from the public as potholes can appear quickly, and the more eyes we have on the road, the faster we can find out about possible problems. If you see a pothole during your travels, please give our maintenance contractors a call and make sure they’re aware of it. There are 28 maintenance contractors throughout the province, and you can find the one for your area here.

      The best time to fill potholes is when the weather is warm and dry. But when a pothole poses a safety issue, we often can’t wait for ideal weather. We fill the hole with a temporary fix during the winter season and plan on returning during the summer to make a permanent repair.

      Unfortunately, because the patching material doesn’t bond well to the road surface in wet, cold conditions, it’s not uncommon to see a pothole needing repair again shortly after it was filled. In fact, we might make a number of temporary repairs to a pothole before the weather improves and a more permanent fix can be made. The colder and wetter the spring, the more often repairs are required.

      Reply
      • I was referring to the ruts and holes in the COMPACT SNOW (as in the specifications above). Not potholes in the asphalt. Would be pretty stupid to use a grader with an ice blade on a pothole in asphalt!

        Reply
          • I would still like an answer as to how the Ministry expects its contractors to keep compact snow free of holes and ruts. This is a really challenging requirement – especially when the compact has had scores of heavy trucks parked on it during a closure and then driving over it BEFORE any ploughs have a chance to do anything.

          • The Trans-Canada in Service Areas 12 and 13. In my experience Emcon in Service Area 12 do a pretty good job of trying to clear rutted and holed compact, but I doubt they always meet your specification. I’m pretty sure AIM in service area 13 failed to meet your specification by some margin earlier this winter. I actually believe that sometimes it might not be physically possible to meet your specification (unless you pre-emptively close the highway so that there aren’t scores of transports parked on the highway for hours during the inevitable closures and preventing plowing until after they are released and have compacted all the snow that has fallen).

  7. What one phone number can I call 24/7 to report serious highway condition observation issues to?

    I regularly make 800 to1,000 km trips throughout BC. When I see a serious problem that could endanger life and limb now I am forced to call 911. The alternative is to keep a list as long as my arm and figure out what contractor to call???

    MoTI is making some important advancements in upping the service standards. I have seen the recent improvements, it is impressive. On a trip from Prince George to the Lower Mainland just bearly in advance of the big storm that rolled across the province just prior to Christmas 17/18th ish I saw no less than 7 Sand/Plow Trucks being prepositioned or on the road prior to the storm hitting.

    Bloody awesome improvements! But the opportunity to use those of us on the road as your eyes and ears for condition changes is truely undercapitalized on.

    Reply
    • Hi Ian,

      Thank you for your message, your observations and your feedback. We truly appreciate the conversations we have with those in the transport trade as they are the eyes and ears on our roads. DriveBC mobile has a Report a Highway button that should be easier for you to identify contractors and areas. Here’s the link to that: https://www.drivebc.ca/rahp/index.html

      Otherwise, @DriveBC is available 24/7 for your concerns and we encourage you to share any issues with them as well for follow up. Our TranBC Facebook page and this blog site are also monitored during regular business hours and we strive to be as responsive as possible to any concerns shared with us. Hope that this information is helpful.

      Thank you again for connecting with us here.

      Reply