Winter Operations Frequently Asked Questions
(This page will be updated periodically so check back often)
Summary | Winter Operations FAQ
During winter operations, Mainroad experiences a high frequency of questions from the public and media by phone and email. Recently, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure published a helpful blog on Highway Maintenance: Everything you need to know about East Kootenay Highway Winter Maintenance Specifications
In addition to including TranBC’s information in this document, we have provided answers to a series of frequently asked questions and other helpful resources.
Since the award of Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure’s Service Area 11 Highway Maintenance contract in April, 2016, Mainroad has re-structured its operations to meet the new service requirements and has made a significant investment in new maintenance yards and a new fleet of trucks exceeding $10 million dollars.
Firstly, here’s a brief overview of the plan Mainroad has developed for a more efficient operation to provide a better level of service to meet the new winter specifications, including:
- Mainroad invested in the purchase of new and modern snow removal equipment with an increase in material delivery capacity over the previous contract allowing operators to stay longer on the roads to serve the public.~ 20 tandem axle, 6 tri-axle plows and 6 single axle plows all with wing plows attached supplemented with one tow plow with anti-icing capacity and one trailer sanding unit
- Having all plows equipped with AVLS (Automated Vehicle Location System) which uses GPS to track the plow locations and ensure efficient deployment of the fleet;
- Relocating the maintenance yards and having greater stockpiles of materials at those yards to serve the local area better;
- Increasing the use of liquid anti-icing chemicals by 250% (currently use one million litres, will use 3.5 million litres) by having liquid chemical production capability with storage in seasonal years;
- Having a “Snow Desk”: a single point of contact staffed around the clock during severe storm events that has authority to deploy fleet equipment anywhere in the service area as required. This is an internal management function to optimize efficiency during winter operations.
Visit this link for full contract details: Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure Highway Maintenance Agreement, Service Area 11
What is the road/highway service area that Mainroad East Kootenay Contracting is responsible for maintaining?
A. The East Kootenay Service Area is 3,673 lane kilometers including 106 bridges (seven of which are bridge-size culverts), 45 retaining walls, 4,100 culverts, four tunnels (one rock tunnel and three pedestrian underpasses), 11,000 signs and 11 rest areas.
Q. Which streets get plowing priority? How often are you plowing and apply the use of salt and winter abrasive?
A. It’s important for everyone to know that Mainroad’s plowing response time is determined by the standards set by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure. Priority is given to numbered highways and school bus routes with other roads frequency determined by winter traffic volumes. These frequencies are reviewed annually by the Ministry to ensure that plowing priorities reflect any changes in the road network.
Mainroad East Kootenay Contracting LP is responsible for the maintenance of British Columbia’s provincial highways and roads between Brisco (North), Goatfel (West), Alberta (East) and the U.S. border (South). Mainroad is not responsible for plowing within municipal boundaries or on forestry service roads and any snow plow discharge falling on residential driveways is the responsibility of the property owner.
Q. Where are Mainroad’s maintenance yards located?
A. Mainroad is delivering highway maintenance from five yard locations; Cranbrook, Sparwood, Fairmont, Elko and Yahk. Based on our experience, we identified these yard locations as where we can maintain greater stockpiles of materials to serve the local area more efficiently.
Q. How many Mainroad employees are working during winter operations?
A. Our fleet and crews are fully engaged in winter maintenance operations. Over 75 employees plus mechanical support are available to work around the clock to keep our roads clear which includes a Paid Standby Crew who will be called in to plow the roads. Our employee count has not changed in the past 15 years nor at the beginning of this new highway maintenance contract.
B.C. highways are classified A, B, C, D & E and are maintained in that order. Winter highway classifications are based on traffic volumes and function. A’s are the first priority; followed by B’s and C’s.
Class “A” highways are high volume routes with over 5,000 winter average daily traffic counts and may include high volume commuter routes through mountain passes.
Class “B” highways are all other routes with winter average daily traffic volumes between 1,000 and 5,000 vehicles.
Class “C” routes are all school bus routes and commercial routes up to 1,000 winter average daily traffic.
Class “D” routes are rural subdivision routes.
Class “E” routes are irregularly maintained routes Class “F” are not maintained or not open in the winter.
A great example of an “A” in the East Kootenay area is Highway 3 Cranbrook to the BC/AB Border. A main highway or “B” is Highway 93/95 Cranbrook to Canal Flats. “C” routes are other roads that are neither A nor B, but include important roads like school bus routes. “D” and “E” are the roads generally less travelled.
If a route becomes more popular or sees an increase in commercial traffic, the Ministry may upgrade its classification and increase highway operations on that route, as was done to Highway 3, when the route between Cranbrook to Fernie changed to an “A”. 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 winter abrasive applications, always a good thing when we see winter take hold.
Highway patrol frequencies are based on highway classifications. Patrol vehicles must be equipped to remove snow and provide traction restoration during a weather event or prior to occurring, either forecasted or anticipated slippery or freeze-thaw situations.
Maximum Allowable Accumulation
Basically, this is the maximum amount of snow allowed to accumulate on the highway surface during a weather event. A highway with an “A” classification is allowed up to 4 cm during a weather event, while an “E” is allowed up to 25cm. Class D roads (rural subdivision roads) are required to be plowed within 3 days of the end of the weather event or as required during to stay below the maximum allowable accumulation.
Q. What is the impact of a underbody plow (belly plow) vs. a front plow?
A. Front plows rely solely on their weight to provide downforce, as they are attached to the truck using an A-frame holder with chains attached to raise and lower it. A front plow can weigh 1,500 to 2,500 lbs in most cases. The issue of force and PSI is much less important than cutting angle, which is where the front plow has a great advantage. Front plows generally have an angle of attack in the 45 to 55 degree range, though Mainroad has a few with 75. This provides a cutting effect similar to a plane used on wood. Further, the cutting action and accumulated snow on the moldboard have the effect of increasing down force. The slack in the chains allow the plow to remain on the road despite surface irregularities and impact forces.
An underbody plow operates at a reverse angle and provides no cutting action at all, it only sweeps the surface. The down pressure is modulated by both a system relief valve and a spring to prevent equipment damage and traction/steering problems due to upward loading on the truck chassis. This means that surface irregularities and impacts will force the blade upward, as will snow load. The operator can override this to a degree by holding the control lever down, but serious damage and down time will inevitably result. Underbody plows are simply not designed for compact snow removal.
It should also be noted that no plow will be able to clear compact snow from rutted sections of highway, such as those found on Hwy 3 between Yahk and Moyie. This requires chemical application and creates a great deal of slush. In those cases, rubber blades are sometimes employed, often found on specially modified front plows that utilize a 90 degree angle of attack, but more frequently seen on underbody plows due to the fact that the force exerted on an underbody plow is not sufficient to damage a rubber cutting edge. This type of clearing is more suited to the rearward sweep of an underbody.
Q. What is purpose of a wing plow during winter operations?
A. Many of Mainroad’s tandem and tri axle trucks are fitted with truck mounted wing plows which are situated on the right hand side of the truck. Depending on the unit, they are either 9 or 10 feet long and operate at about a 35 degree angle from the truck. This provides 6 to 7 feet of additional plow pass width, permitting one truck to do the work formerly done by 2 prior to the introduction of wing plows by contractors across the Province in the ‘90s. These plows sweep rather than cut and are intended for snow clearing only, other equipment is used for compact removal. They are particularly useful for rapid widening and pushing shoulder snow accumulations back. Heavy shoulder clearing work and snowbank pushback or terracing is done using a wing equipped grader. While Mainroad East Kootenay Contracting does not currently operate any left hand wings, watch for them in other parts of B.C., usually operating in the fast lane of a multi lane highway.
Truck mounted wings are also used on multi-lane sections of highway to rapidly clear a wider path than possible using only an underbody or even a front plow. Motorists should exercise caution when approaching any snow plow, and never pass on the right. Snow discharge can hide the wing and even the brightest warning lights, and the operator may not be able to see and avoid a passing motorist. Snowplowing is performed at speeds of 40-60 km/h, often less than that, so please be patient when following a snow plow. The operator will move over when safe to do so.
Q. What is a tow plow?
A. Another innovation is the tow plow, which also operates to the right of a plow truck. A tow plow consists of a trailer behind the plow truck that shifts over the right when deployed to allow 2 full lanes to be plowed at once. This takes place at about 50km/h, but leaves a very wide path behind it. The tow plow is also equipped with a liquid de-icing system, further increasing it’s capabilities. All of these innovations greatly increase the amount of work a given unit can perform over what was possible a generation ago. Today’s maintenance equipment is larger, more powerful and far more capable than ever before.
Q. Why are some roads plowed more than others? Which streets get plowing priority?
A. It’s important for everyone to know that Mainroad’s plowing response time is determined by the standards set by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure. Priority is given to major highway routes such as numbered highways and school bus routes because those are the ones used by emergency services and the majority of traffic. Other road frequency is determined by winter traffic volumes. These frequencies are reviewed annually by the Ministry to ensure that plowing priorities reflect any changes in the road network.
When winter hits, we need to make sure we keep service area roads as clear as possible. Sometimes when the snow is falling fast, it can build up quickly again right after the plow passes. In those cases, it’s not uncommon to see those higher-priority routes plowed several times before we can turn our attention to other areas with lower traffic volumes. It can be a real challenge to keep up with clearing the snow during a severe storm event but using the Ministry’s priority approach allows Mainroad to make the best use of resources to keep roads as safe and reliable as possible.
If you’re wondering why it’s taking a while to get a plow along your road this winter, you can always give us a call but please be patient. Our 24 hour hotline is 1-800-665-4929.
Highway Snow Removal
Highways are completed in a priority sequence with snow removal beginning on higher classification main highways. Rural side roads are completed once snow removal is completed on main highways or as required to remain within the provincial standard for maximum accumulation. In accordance with the contract, Mainroad must deploy resources to apply winter abrasives and/or anti-icing chemicals in advance of forecasted or anticipated weather events to prevent the development of slippery conditions. Commencement of snow removal from highways must be in place once there is 3 cm of snow accumulation on the highway surface. Snow removal must be continuous through the weather event and ensure all highways remain below the provincial maximum allowable accumulations in the table above.
Response Times Frames for Restoring Traction
- These must be completed in a priority sequence, with shorter response times on higher class highways.
- Restore traction within the response times below from when Mainroad detects slippery conditions while patrolling or as reported to Mainroad by general public.
- Restoring traction will be completed by either applying winter abrasives on compact sections when pavement temperatures are below -9° or winter chemicals to compact sections to melt snow and ice when pavement temperatures are above -9°C. It is important to recognize de-icing takes several hours and creates slushy conditions during the melt process.
Completion of Snow Removal
The following table shows how long the Ministry allows the remaining snow to sit on the road after a weather event. After the weather event is over, compact snow removal will continue until bare pavement is achieved on Class “A”, “B” and “C” routes (provided pavement temperatures are warmer than -9°C). If pavement temperatures remain colder than -9°C within the outlined time frames – the compact snow can remain until pavement temperatures are -9° and warming.
Winter Maintenance on B.C. Highways- Video by TransBC
Municipal Boundary snow removal operations
City of Fernie
Roads and Snow Clearing
District of Elkford
District of Sparwood
Snow Removal and Ice Control
Q. What is Mainroad doing ahead of a winter storm event?
A. Our aim is to be much more proactive during pre-storm activities with more emphasis on primary routes which also includes an enhanced pre-treatment program. The lessons we learned from previous trials for liquid anti-icing material in the Elk Valley last year have been rolled out to the entire service area this year. It is anticipated that we will use four million litres of anti-icing material for use during winter operations which has a quick reaction time and at lower temperatures.
The proactive use of an anti-icing liquid is a proven way of combatting ice from performing on the highway surface. This technique is used throughout most highway maintenance jurisdictions in North America.
Pre-storm activities include pre-salting and monitoring the forecast closely.
Ahead of a weather event, Mainroad releases regular road and weather updates to a contact list of local agencies, various stakeholders including the Ministry and Media to help inform the public. This helps everyone understand the current conditions, expected weather and Mainroad’s response. These updates are also posted on our social media.
When a weather event occurs, (snow, freezing rain, flooding, etc.) Mainroad crews are working around the clock plowing, sanding and/or salting as conditions warrant and patrolling the service area.
Q. How does Mainroad monitor weather and highways conditions?
A. As the weather can change rapidly in the East Kootenays during winter, Mainroad is constantly monitoring weather and highway conditions. To determine how best to protect motorists, we oversee weather in two ways:
- Road Weather Information Stations (RWIS): 7 East Kootenay Service Area roadside stations measure site-specific highway data such as pavement surface temperature and condition, precipitation, snow depth, air temperature, humidity, and wind.
- Road Patrols: 24 hours per day, 7 days per week our operators are on the road observing current conditions and making the calls as to what maintenance is required.
- Environment Canada also contributes to our weather watch, providing regional forecasts. Combined with additional weather information from sources such as airports, these tools help us predict road conditions. But firsthand experience is also a big part of knowing our roads. That’s why Mainroad patrols the highways on a regular basis.
- Road Weather Forecasting: Environment Canada’s Meteorological Service of Canada does not do road weather forecasting. This vital service is only available through private sector service providers. The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure contracts with a leading road weather forecaster, which watches over B.C. weather 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
- MeteoGroup: Mainroad hires the services of MeteoGroup one of the world’s leading weather forecast providers, to monitor the area’s weather and provide several forecasts, each specific to local sub-area’s needs.
Q. Who ensures the work is being done properly?
A. There are two ways in which work is assessed against contractual commitments:
Mainroad has a vigorous quality assurance program in place, which tracks our own performance. Should areas of concern be detected, measures are put in place to deal with the shortcoming and processes are modified to prevent recurrence. Mainroad is an ISO compliant company and its quality programs are built on those models.
The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure has an ongoing inspection process that involves a high level overview using resources from areas across the Province, as well as thousands of detailed inspections that drill into the inside workings of Mainroad’s maintenance practices. Mainroad currently has a very good performance rating, as measured against our contractual commitments
Winter Abrasive: The new contract saw a reduction in the size of aggregate used in winter abrasive from 12.5mm to 9.5mm, a graded material as specified by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure. This new material specification is expected to stay on the road to improve traction and reduce the potential damage to vehicles.
Anti-icing Liquids: Anti-icing liquids are used as a preventative material prior to snowfall. Typically, these materials are applied prior to a forecasted winter event and dry on the highway surface to provide early on snow melting capabilities. Some liquids, have the performance capability of working in colder temperatures allowing us to remove snow and ice more efficiently than previously experienced.
Salt: Salt is a staple of our winter maintenance routine. Sometimes salt is used in a liquid, sometimes in a solid. It helps to melt the ice, and then the slush can be plowed away. There’s a lot of science behind it, but there’s a real art to using salt as well. Using a fast-acting salt can work well when there isn’t much snow, for example. But if the snow keeps coming, the fast- acting option will create a lot of water, which will dilute the salt and make it less effective.
Salts are only effective in certain temperatures. If temperatures fall below -5C, salt becomes a lot more ineffective. Also, if the ice melts and then the temperature suddenly dips, it can actually make things worse, because that slush and melted water is just going to freeze again.
During a snow event, restoring traction will be completed by either applying winter abrasives on compact sections or by applying winter chemicals to compact sections to melt snow and ice when pavement temperatures are above -9C.
Q. What is ice blading?
A. Ice blading is another method that’s frequently used. That’s when the plow or grader goes over the ice with a large, serrated blade and cuts grooves directly into the ice. These grooves help hold the winter abrasive to help increase traction. It’s the best way to ensure safe driving when the road is covered in compact snow and ice. When temperatures permit, Mainroad will actively remove compact snow with salt to break up the ice and plow and clear the roads.
Q. What is Mainroad doing to respond to changing conditions during a storm event?
A. Weather can change rapidly in the East Kootenays during winter which is why Mainroad is constantly monitoring weather and highway conditions.
During a storm event, Mainroad crews will be working to clear the highway surfaces as quickly as possible. When temperatures permit, we will commence anti-icing operations with the goal of getting the compact snow off service area highways and roads. On primary routes, we will aim to have bare and black conditions from the completion of the weather event as quickly as possible however challenging weather will not always permit us to have bare and black conditions on secondary routes.
During every storm event, Mainroad will provide the Ministry and Media with regular updates.
Q. Where can I direct concerns about road conditions to Mainroad East Kootenay Contracting?
A. We encourage motorists and residents to report all road condition concerns by phone to our 24 hour call centre number. Please call 1-800-665-4929. Please report accidents, unsafe road conditions and road kill to Mainroad’s 24-hour hotline.
Mainroad East Kootenay and the ministry take the safety of the travelling public very seriously. If you come across a highway situation in Service Area 11 requiring maintenance response, please call 1-800-665-4929 to report the condition and location. An operator is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week who can forward the information to maintenance operators on shift to respond.
With a service area of 3,673 kms to maintain, we simply cannot be everywhere at any place at any time – we really appreciate the public’s assistance in reporting their concerns to us. Our 24 hour call centre personnel will record public communication, dispatch additional personnel and update DriveBC.
You can also write Mainroad:
Social Media: We regularly post East Kootenay road and weather updates on our Facebook and Twitter accounts and invite to you follow us. **Please note: Mainroad’s Facebook and Twitter accounts are not monitored 24/7.
Q. Where can I find news about Mainroad East Kootenay Contracting
A. Please visit www.mainroad.ca.
Here’s what you can do to stay safe during winter driving conditions:
Visit DriveBC | www.drivebc.ca
- For current road conditions
- For weather forecasts
- For real-time conditions via webcams
Fall and winter weather can be unpredictable – we tend to experience all types of driving conditions; snow, heavy rain, fog, and icy conditions.
- Give your vehicle a winter check-up and equip your family with a winter survival kit so you’re not caught off guard when weather conditions deteriorate.
- We encourage drivers to choose the best winter tires possible when driving in snow and ice, and to ensure tires are in good condition, with a minimum tread depth of 3.5 mm.
- Carry an emergency survival kit with non-perishable food, blankets and first aid supplies, windshield scraper and snow brush, extra windshield washer fluid, fuel line antifreeze, flares and matches or lighter, tire chains and gloves, shovel and traction mat, sand or kitty litter, flashlight and extra batteries, battery jumper cables, spare tire wheel wrench and jack, extra clothing and footwear and sandbags for extra weight.
Driving during winter driving conditions
- Conditions change and so should your speed. Please SLOW DOWN and drive for the conditions.
- We encourage all motorists to drive to the conditions during the winter season, slow down, and increase the distance between yourself and the vehicle in front of you.
Plow truck safety
- Be extremely cautious when approaching highway maintenance vehicles. Though you see the plow, our plow truck operators might not see you.
- When drivers attempt to pass a plow truck, they put themselves, their passengers, the truck operator and the driving public at risk.
- Remember the road surface ahead of the plow hasn’t been plowed yet therefore please slow down and be patient. The operator will eventually pull over and let you pass safely.
Drivers may not be aware…
- Plows are wide and can extend across the centre line.
- On some highways, two or more snow plows may be staggered across multiple lanes with the plow in front pushing snow towards the plows behind. This is an effective way to quickly clear wide areas so we want to remind drivers to stay behind these plowing operations and to not try to pass.
- Snow plows and salt or sand trucks throw up snow and spray making it difficult to see. Snow plows have limited visibility and plow truck operators cannot see directly behind their trucks.
- When Mainroad operators are applying road chemicals to the highway, they may not be able to turn off their spinners therefore motorists should slow down and move to the right of the highway as much as possible.