THE AREA’S road maintenance contractor is adding a regional district government critical of its winter performance to the list of organizations it meets with prior to each winter.
The move by Nechako Northcoast Construction follows statements by the Skeena Queen Charlotte Regional District that there’s a difference between how Hwy16 is maintained from Terrace to Prince Rupert by O’Brien Road and Bridge Maintenance, which is responsible for the western half of the distance, and by Nechako which is responsible for the eastern half of the Terrace to Prince Rupert route.
Skeena Queen Charlotte directors made their views known about their opinion of Nechkao in a meeting with provincial highways officials.
Nechako Northcoast official Dan Beaulac said he’s puzzled by the regional district position because it has never contacted his company.
“We really don’t know what their questions are but we’ll make a concerted effort to find out,” he said.
Winter maintenance issues are raised each fall when the company meetings with local governments, trucking companies, emergency service providers and other key road users, Beaulac said.
He did add that Hwy16 leading west from Terrace toward Prince Rupert can be subject to some of the most challenging winter weather conditions in the province.
“You have snow belts there and snow squalls that can move in within minutes. There’s tremendous squall activity there,” Beaulac said.
Contractor performance is graded each summer and each winter with bonus or residual payment amounts hinging on the results.
Companies are eligible to receive a maximum 2 per cent of the annual value of their contract each year based on performance.
For the winter period from Oct. 2011 to March 2012, Nechako Northcoast did not qualify for any payment, the only contractor in the province not to receive a payment during that period.
“It was the worst winter in 50 years,” said Beaulac of the winter period from Oct. 2011 to the spring of 2012.
He did add that winter driving safety also rests with drivers equipping their vehicles with the appropriate tires and, most importantly, driving to conditions.
“Our operators, when they are out there in the worst of conditions, come back and tell us horror stories of what drivers do,” said Beaulac. “People just don’t seem to get it.”
He called for more driver awareness and more enforcement during the winter season.
In the meantime, another regional district is pressing the provincial government to increase road maintenance contract standards on Hwy16 in general.
The Kitimat-Stikine regional district introduced two motions for debate at the Union of BC Municipalities convention last month in Vancouver.
One wanted improved standards written into any new road maintenance contracts and the other calls for Hwy16 to be reclassified.
Hwy16 is now considered a Class B highway with the exception of its path through Smithers and Terrace where it is a Class A route and subject to more winter maintenance.
Hwy37 South from Terrace to Kitimat was reclassified from a Class B to Class A route several years ago following a concerted lobbying effort by Kitimat council and others.
“Northern BC residents consistently declare road maintenance fails to meet travellers’ requirements and that standards have deteriorated since privatization of road maintenance,” reads a portion of the Kitimat-Stikine motion.
In the case of Nechako Northcoast, any new contract standards, if approved, would have to wait until its current agreement with the provincial government finishes. And that won’t happen for years because the company’s current contract with the province won’t conclude until 2019.
Billabong Road and Bridge Maintenance, also a road maintenance company, is an affiliate of Nechako Northcoast.