Clearing the roads: Nechako and the Terrace area

TERRACE AND area woke up to a sea of white on New Year’s Day as flurries of snow swept the area, blanketing everything in their path.

  • Jan. 8, 2012 3:00 p.m.

TERRACE AND area woke up to a sea of white on New Year’s Day as flurries of snow swept the area, blanketing everything in their path.

In total, 41.6 cm of snow arrived in Terrace Jan. 1, joining the 41 cm already on the ground, according to Environment Canada’s weather monitoring system.

Heavy weather cycles can have effects that are far-reaching, especially as communities attempt to go on as normal while clean-up crews struggle to catch up.

So far, the weather in 2012 has been no kinder than in 2011, which saw precipitation on 296 of its 365 days.

Flooding

Flooding on Hwy37 south slowed motorists down Jan. 4 as a section of road near Furlong Bay campground was swamped under about a foot of water.

Transportation ministry official Don Ramsay said heavy snow had blocked a culvert running underneath the road.

This, coupled with flooding from beaver dams in the area, caused water to flow over the highway.

“This is an area commonly known for its draining problems caused by beavers,” Ramsay said.

Falling rock

A rock slide 12 km west of Terrace on Hwy16 closed the road to traffic for a morning, Jan. 5.

The slide took place at about 2 a.m. and brought down rocks and snow, completely blocking the westbound lane and spreading about 15 – 20 metres wide. Crews managed to get the highway open to single-lane alternating traffic by the afternoon.

Ramsay estimated the rock to be about a metre deep on the white line of the road, thinning out to about a half metre by the centre line.

“It’s difficult to see the actual volume of rock because of the amount of snow that came with it,” Ramsay explained.

Area roads

A resident in New Remo says he is starting up a petition asking for better snow removal on residential streets from Nechako Northcoast, the company charged with maintaining 155 km of roads outside the City of Terrace.

Richard Cote plans to ask his neighbours to sign the petition, which states that he feels Nechako Northcoast is not doing its job properly.

“We’ve got a foot of snow on Kilby Rd. (in New Remo),” Cote said last week, adding plows came in and skimmed here and there but not much removal was done. “Now it’s raining on a foot of snow…it is not OK.”

“How the heck would we get out of here if there was an emergency? We wouldn’t, we would die,” he continued.

Cote feels there are not enough employees, trucks and plows on roads to keep up with demand.

“Privatization means less service, and that I can understand, but when you don’t provide any service, that is not OK.”

Peter Lansdowne from Nechako Northcoast said the New Year’s Day storm was a tough one, and there has been a heavy snow cycle hitting the area since November.

“The last weather cycle with heavy snow created some real challenging conditions,” he said.

Lansdowne didn’t say how many trucks or plows Nechako Northcoast had working the roads, but did say they match equipment to the response needed.

“The holidays are just another workday for us when there is storm weather,” he noted.

On the other side of Terrace, Russell Broughton is also unsatisfied with the snow removal on streets around where he lives in Thornhill.

“They’re not doing it,” he said, expressing concern for senior citizens who live on his street.

“It’s just getting worse every year,” Broughton added.

The Ministry of Transportation reviews Nechako Northcoast for its services and Ramsay said the company is paid $7,940,000 a year to maintain its roads. They have had this contract since 1991.

Ramsay said the Ministry of Transportation has been receiving calls of complaint, but this is commonplace after heavy snowfalls.

He explained there is a diligent monitoring system to ensure Nechako is fulfilling its contract.

“We have a set of specifications which basically outline our expectations in terms of snowfall, how it is to be treated, and the maximum accumulation that is allowed,” Ramsay said. “We make many, many hundreds of observations and record them over the course of a year, and we provide them to the contractor so they know what we are seeing.”

He explained roads are classed by the amount of traffic on them, and so the arterial highway which runs through the City of Terrace and Hwy37 down to Kitimat are class A, where the maximum accumulation of snow is 4 cm.

Hwy16 is a class B highway, and 6cm is the maximum expected. The Nisga’a Highway and major connector routes around town are class C, with maximum accumulation expected to be 10 centimetres. And, finally side roads are classified in the D category and have a maximum expected accumulation of 15 cm.

“Now, when you get a snowfall like we’ve had over the last few days it’s probably nigh on to impossible for the maintenance contractor to keep up with those specified measurements,” Ramsay said.

“And as a result, many roads over accumulated,” he explained, adding the snow removal was further complicated as freezing rain and rain weighed things down, creating compact snow.

Ramsay explained the review process on Nechako’s maintenance goes beyond local monitoring.

Twice a year, it is reviewed from an outside team of Ministry of Transportation staff.

The ministry also meets with stakeholder groups, such as trucking companies and the RCMP, to hear input on the road conditions.

A combination of these three methods leads to a biannual score. For the 2010/2011 winter, Nechako scored 88.7 per cent.

“That means that they are generally fulfilling the contract, and they are generally getting satisfactory results,” Ramsay said.

He adds that while people have a right to complain, allowances have to be made for extreme weather.

“If you think about the work that these guys do, they make a huge contribution to the community in keeping the roads open,” Ramsay pointed out.

“They are out there in the kinds of conditions that you and I wouldn’t want to drive in, and they’re out there 24/7.”

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