Clear the Way! How Highway Sweeping Works in BC

maintenance vehicles sweeping along bc highway
Dawson Road Maintenance sweeps Highway 1 in the South Cariboo service area in March 2022. Photo courtesy of Dawson Road Maintenance.

Dirt sand stones tremble

Hear the sweeper truck rumble

Spring makes way for smooth

  • A TranBC spring road maintenance haiku

An active sweeper truck is as welcome a sign of spring as any blooming BC flower. And although the sweeper’s bulky stature may not please the eye like your average daffodil or tulip, nothing looks as satisfyingly fresh as a newly swept surface after highway sweeping.

Our highway maintenance contractors sweep a whopping 66,000 lane kilometres of road every year across the province. That’s like going around the circumference of the Earth one and a half times (and then some). In other words, that’s a LOT of dirt, sand and other bits of debris collected or pushed out of the way for travellers.

Contract Requirements

Maintenance contractors are required to sweep roads in their service area based on specific performance criteria. Here it is at a glance:

Table of sweeping requirements
Performance criteria for removing accumulations on hard surfaced highways and raised hard surfaced infrastructure.

The performance criteria takes into account both yearly sweeping routines and circumstances that require a specific response time. For example, you’ll notice urban highways and designated bike lanes must be swept three times annually. However, debris that is unsafe or has the potential to be unsafe must be cleared immediately.

Of course, sweeping timelines and routines differ depending on the service area. Maintenance contractors in the milder South Coast region typically sweep throughout the year, while contractors in snowier Interior climates will be more active through the spring and summer, when things are thawed and there is a strong need to clear winter abrasives.

How Sweeping Works

The type of sweeping equipment used depends on the type of surface being swept. On roads that have open shoulders, crews can use a truck or loader with a broom attached, which moves debris to the shoulder. In this case, a separate water truck leads the way, spraying the road ahead to reduce the amount of dust being created by the sweeping process. You can see this tandem in the image from Dawson Road Maintenance above.

Crews can’t always push the debris to the shoulder. In some cases, there are environmentally sensitive areas next to the roadway; in other cases, there are roadside barriers in the way. That’s when a vacuum or elevating sweeper is needed to collect the debris for disposal at an approved site. These sweepers tend to have water sprayers built into the equipment for an all-in-one sweeping experience.

Take a look at the equipment in action, courtesy of Mainroad, our highway maintenance contractor in the Lower Mainland:

For smaller surfaces, such as sidewalks, crews use more compact broom equipment (a Ventrac with a rotary sweeper or blow pack, for example).

How to Drive Safely Around Sweepers

If you come across sweeping equipment, follow all directions from onsite traffic control, including arrow boards on the sweeper or the buffer truck trailing behind.

Sweeping operations can move at about 50km/h. They can cover large distances and there may be significant gaps between the advanced warning signs and when you encounter the actual sweeper. They also typically straddle the right-hand shoulder and lane. So stay alert for sweepers ahead, watch for the flashing lights on the top and back of the sweeper unit and never attempt to pass on the right. On narrow two-lane segments, sweeper operators will often pull off to the side to allow passing when there is enough room.

As mentioned above, crews spray water to reduce dust, but you should still approach sweepers with caution and pass with care, yielding to oncoming traffic or moving to the open, unobstructed lane.

What You Can Do to Reduce Debris

Winter abrasives are a major source of debris, sure, but it’s not the only one. A lot of additional debris comes from unsecured loads – commercial trucks, landscaping materials, dump trips, people moving – so please ensure the materials you are hauling are properly contained. It will contribute to a smoother ride for all (and less cracked windshields!).

Interested in reading more about highway maintenance? We have lots of good info.

Try these:

>> 5 Ways We Tackle Spring Cleaning on BC Highways

>> The Problem of Perennial Pothole Patching

>> A Day in the Life of a Road Area Manager

>> The Evolving Story of Brighter, More Durable Line Painting

>> How BC Highway Maintenance Contracts Have Changed for the Better

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Page 1 of 4 comments on “Clear the Way! How Highway Sweeping Works in BC”

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  1. It would be nice if the maintenance contractors would clean the concrete roadside barriers the way they should be cleaned. They sweep along them pushing the dirt into the scuppers causing them to not work the way they were engineered. Water piles up and rushes down the barricades till it finds a way through to cross road and get to the ditch usually creating little creeks across the road making it dangerous for the public because of the higher risk of hydroplaning. Engineers and road managers should be on top of this making the contractors do it properly.

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  2. Yes how about fixing the pot holes and keeping the drains and sides of the road clean. Make it a public company again. Maintainance is at a alltime low.

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