The ABCs of Winter Highway Classification and Maintenance

winter maintenance snow plow
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 to prioritize how and when they are maintained.

Winter Maintenance Classifications and What They Mean

BC highways are classified A, B, C, D, E & F and are maintained in that order.

Class “A” roads are higher volume, higher speed routes. These are the main interprovincial highways and commuter routes throughout the province and they generally have over 5,000 (or more) vehicles per day travelling on them. These routes are our first priority during a winter storm event, and you will see our contractor’s resources there first. Highway 1, 3, 5, 16, and 97 are examples of class A roads.

Class “B” roads are all other numbered highways and busier sideroads. These tend to be numbered highways that are regionally important and have 1,000-5,000 vehicles per day, but don’t act as main interprovincial highways or busy commuter routes. Good examples are Highway 35 from to Francois Lake, Highway 28 to Gold River or Mount Baldy Road.

Class “C” roads include school bus routes to safety get those kids to and from school safety, larger volume industrial routes, and busier sideroads. These tend to be the main collector roads in subdivisions and where larger trucks and buses operate.

Class “D” roads are subdivision sideroads with residents. Chances are, if you live rurally in BC and are not on a school bus route, you live on a Class D road.

Class “E” roads are very low volume and generally get plowed a few times a year, as needed.

Class “F” roads are not maintained in the winter at all. Roads classified as “F” might be maintained for summer traffic but have no need for winter access, or these may just be roads that aren’t maintained at all (outside of periodic inspections).

What does that mean for you?  

Well, the higher the classification of road – the more quickly you can expect to see maintenance equipment. During storms, contractor resources, will be focused on getting those higher classification roads cleared, moving to lower classification roads as weather permits (and within the allowable timeframe outlined in our specifications). With over 47, 000 km of roads to look after across a province as big as BC – they simply can’t get to all of them at the same time. The goal of this system is to have the best conditions on the routes with the most “road kilometers” driven.

During storms, the focus is to keep these main routes open, safe and flowing. Our maintenance contractors put all their equipment into action to make sure that our highways remain safe. They also continuously update road condition information on DriveBC, so you can know what to expect before you go. After a storm, they review their performance to make sure they can provide the best service possible in the next bout of nasty weather.

Can highway classifications change?

Yes. 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. It’s all about safety. Changes like this mean 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.

How can I find out what my road class is?

Want to find out the winter classification of a road in your area? You can do that.

The Province of B.C. has created a web app called iMapBC, which allows you to search the winter classification of our routes, among many other tidbits of important provincial info. Here’s how:

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 (Hint: you might have to scroll down to a very high level to see the corresponding colour).
11. 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 local municipality for more information.

Phew. That’s a lot of info, we know, but we hope it’s helpful. If you found this information interesting, you might also like to check out a few of our other, related blogs:

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.

  • BC Highway Maintenance Contracts have changed! Learn more 

Page 1 of 115 comments on “The ABCs of Winter Highway Classification and Maintenance”

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  1. 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.

    Reply
    • 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?

      Reply
  2. 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.

    Reply
      • 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”;

        Reply
        • 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.

          Reply
          • tranbceditor:

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

            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.

    • 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.

      Reply
  3. 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.

    Reply
  4. Bonjour,

    I am working in road winter maintenance for the Ministry of Transportation of Qubec (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.

    Reply