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Winter Operations FAQ | Mainroad Alberta Contracting LP

Winter driving conditions can be overwhelming to some drivers. In contract partnership with the Province of Alberta the Ministry of Transportation and Economic Corridors, Mainroad Alberta’s plan for roads in the Central Alberta communities we serve is comprehensive and aggressive to get you safely to where you need to go.

During winter operations, Mainroad experiences a high frequency of questions from the public. This resource aims to answer most frequently asked questions and provide other helpful resources. If you have additional questions, please contact Mainroad’s 24-hour public information hotline toll free at 1-877-875-3263. You may also visit the Safer Winter Highways resource for more information.

Your winter is our winter and Mainroad Alberta has every available resource working around the clock against winter conditions to keep your roads safer.

Winter Highway Classifications

Transportation and Economic Corridors classifies highways in priority sequence based on traffic volumes and function and mandates the criteria that Mainroad must follow. That criteria includes timeframes to respond, and determining the best response based on accumulation levels.

The province’s priority sequence allows us to make the best use of our resources.
If a route sees an increase in daily traffic, Transportation and Economic Corridors may upgrade its classification and increase highway operations on that route.

It is all about safety. Changes like this mean an increase in the maintenance commitment, resulting in more frequent patrols and quicker response times, more snow removal, winter material application, which is always a good thing when we see winter take hold.

Highway Patrol Frequencies

Transportation and Economic Corridors classifies highways and sets patrol frequencies. Our patrol vehicles are equipped with a unit that measures traction of the road surface to identify the appropriate winter material required.

What is the road/highway service area that Mainroad Alberta Contracting is responsible for maintaining?

Our maintenance contract oversees 4,600 kilometres of provincial highways surrounding and within the counties of Lacombe, Ponoka, Red Deer and Wetaskiwin, known as Transportation and Economic Corridors Contract Maintenance Areas 515 and 516. Learn more about Mainroad Alberta Contracting LP

Where are Mainroad's maintenance yards located?

Mainroad is delivering highway maintenance from four yards:

  • Red Deer
  • Ponoka
  • Innisfail
  • Winfield

In addition, Mainroad maintains two material reload sites located in Alix and Rimbey.

How many Mainroad employees are working during winter operations?

Our fleet and crews are fully engaged in winter maintenance operations. We have more than 100 employees, plus mechanical support. Before, during & after storms, we deploy crew members who work 12-hour shifts 7 days a week until highways are maintained, as outlined by Transportation and Economic Corridors.

Why are there snowplow trucks parked in the yard at 8:00 am instead of performing snow removal operations?

Great question and a frequent one ~ Mainroad crews work a 12-hour shift so typically at 8:00 am, they are performing a shift change which aligns with the AM and PM commuting timeline for the Contract Maintenance Area. For higher priority highways, we have some alternate shifts in the Red Deer Yard that start earlier at 4:00 am and end at 4:00 pm.

How often do crews patrol highways?

Transportation and Economic Corridors classifies highways and determines our patrol frequencies. Our vehicles are equipped with a unit that measures traction of the road surface to identify the appropriate winter material required.

How does Mainroad monitor weather and highways conditions?

Forewarned is forearmed, so we follow the forecast closely to stay on top of rapidly changing weather. We also provide information to 511 Alberta about highway conditions. The public should pay attention to 511 Alberta and local radio stations for up-to-date weather and road conditions to help them plan their day. Mainroad is constantly monitoring weather and highway conditions. To determine how best to protect drivers, we oversee weather in two ways:

1. Monitoring: Prior to, and during a storm event, our operators are on the road observing current conditions and making the calls as to what maintenance is required. One tool used by Mainroad is MARWIS, a mobile information sensor that measures road conditions and environmental data both reliably and professionally. The sensor is directly installed on the vehicle to collect weather data such as temperatures, humidity, and dew points. This helps our crews manage the road surfaces.

Mainroad also receives data from a monitoring system owned by Transportation and Economic Corridors.

2. Forecasting: Mainroad uses data derived from Road Weather Information System (RWIS) stations that are owned and operated by Transportation and Economic Corridors and situated throughout our maintenance areas for weather forecasting. Four roadside stations measure site-specific highway data such as pavement surface temperature and condition, precipitation, snow depth, air temperature, humidity, and wind.

Transportation and Economic Corridors contracts with a company called WSP Consultation Service to analyse the data collected at the stations to build weather forecast information. Mainroad also contracts with a leading road weather forecaster to provide detailed area-specific weather forecasts twice a day during winter.

Environment Canada contributes to our weather watch with its regional forecasts. Combined with additional weather information from other sources, these tools help us predict road conditions.

Firsthand experience is also a big part of knowing our roads which is why Mainroad patrols the highways on a regular basis.

What is Mainroad doing to prepare for a winter storm?

We attack winter aggressively starting with monitoring forecasts and proactively patrolling the Central Alberta Contract Maintenance Area. Ahead of a forecasted weather event and to prevent the formation of ice, Mainroad has the ability to deploy resources to pre-treat roads and highways with winter materials and/or anti-icing chemicals. Pre-treatment is only effective for certain types of weather events and is used as required and in accordance with our government contract.

The proactive use of an anti-icing liquid is a proven way to combat ice from forming on the highway surface. This technique is used throughout most highway maintenance jurisdictions in North America, as well as some municipalities in Alberta.

During severe weather events, we will have as many as 100 crew members working in shifts through a 24-hour period – and we’ll do that daily until all provincial highways in our Central Alberta Contract Maintenance Areas meet our contractual requirements.

To keep the public informed, Mainroad shares regular road and weather updates with a list of various stakeholders, Transportation and Economic Corridors, 511 Alberta, and media. This helps everyone understand the current conditions, expected weather and Mainroad’s response. These updates are also posted on our Twitter account, @MainroadAlberta.

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.

What is the snow removal protocol?

Snow removal starts before accumulation reaches the maximum threshold on the highway surface, in accordance with our government contract.  Snow removal must then be continuous through the weather event and ensure all highways remain below the provincial maximum allowable accumulations.

Why are some roads plowed more than others? Which highways get plowing priority?

Transportation and Economic Corridors sets criteria for Mainroad’s plowing response time. Priority is given to major highway routes school bus routes and the majority of traffic. Winter traffic volumes may determine plowing frequency. Transportation and Economic Corridors reviews these frequencies to ensure that plowing priorities reflect any changes in the road network.

When winter hits, we need to keep roads as clear as possible. Drivers can be frustrated if all roads aren’t cleared immediately and we ask for your patience. If a storm is particularly fierce, our crews are mandated to focus on priority roads before turning to other roads.

Adhering to Transportation and Economic Corridors’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, you can call us at our 24-hour hotline is 1-877-875-3263.

The roads are icy from snow and wind – why aren’t crews sanding the road?

During periods of high wind conditions, snow can drift in an instant and a road can be
re-covered in snow within minutes of a snowplow passing and clearing the road. A cold winter wind can also impact icy road conditions.

To restore traction during winter operations, crews are applying sand and/ or a sand-salt blend. However, during periods of high wind conditions, applied material can be blown off the road. Depending on the road and weather conditions, applying winter salt can create a greater hazard as the road surface can then become wet and allow snow to stick. As such, Mainroad treats each winter storm differently, depending on a number of factors including wind conditions, road temperature and snow fall rates.

During winter operations, road crews are working tirelessly through all types of weather conditions to patrol for road hazards and to apply winter materials as conditions warrant.

During extreme weather conditions that include white-out conditions, it is advisable that drivers avoid travel until road conditions improve. Before heading out, check 511 Alberta for the up to date conditions in your local area.

We see snowplows but they are not performing snow removal!

Mainroad plows are working around the clock during winter operations – plows are assigned plow routes in the Contract Maintenance Area – should you see a snowplow truck with the blade up, there may be a number of reasons for this to occur:

  1. The operator is heading to an assigned plow route to begin the shift;
  2. The operator is returning to the yard to reload winter materials or has reached the end of the shift;
  3. During windy conditions, the operator is patrolling the highway looking for areas of drifting snow and as such the front plow will be up until the next section of snow has been found when the plow is lowered to clear the highway. Materials will only be applied when road and weather conditions warrant;
  4. Plow blades are made of steel with carbide insert– as the carbide wears out, the operator is required to check them frequently and may need to return to the yard to change out the blades.

What is purpose of a wing plow during winter operations?

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 snowplow, 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 snowplow. The operator will move over when safe to do so.

Who ensures the work is being done properly?

There are several ways in which work is assessed against contractual commitments:
Approximately 45 times a month, Transportation and Economic Corridors sends us blind audits to ensure compliance with our contracts. Using SiteDocs, a digital date collection service, we report on things like pothole fixes, garbage bin maintenance & snow clearing. These reports ensure we are accountable to the public.

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.

  1. AVLS (Automatic Vehicle Location System) allows us to track all our trucks in real time and to quickly re-deploy the nearest available units when the need arises
  2.  Transportation and Economic Corridors 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.

What materials does Mainroad use for winter road maintenance and when are these materials applied?

We use 3 materials:

  • winter abrasive (sand/salt blend)
  • anti-ice liquids
  • granulated road salt

The use of a specific material is determined by the forecast & actual weather conditions in accordance with the standards set by Transportation and Economic Corridors.

During regular winter operations, we anticipate that we will use approximately:

  • 15,000 Tonnes of Salt (1,700 truckloads)
  • 42,000 Tonnes of Sand (5,000 truckloads)
  • 2 Million Litres of Brine (300 truckloads)

Anti-icing Liquids: The proactive use of an anti-icing liquid is a proven way to combat ice from forming on the highway surface. This technique is used throughout most highway maintenance jurisdictions in North America, as well as some municipalities in Alberta.

WHAT IS LIQUID BRINE? Our liquid anti-icing brine is a combo of water & crystal salt. Only during extreme cold do we use a small amount of calcium chloride as an additive to our liquid brine. Anti-icing liquids are used as a preventative material prior to snowfall. Using liquid brine solutions prior to snow or frost is proven to be more effective than salt because it begins to work immediately to prevent the formation of ice. Learn more about Mainroad’s liquid anti-icing brine program

What is Mainroad doing to respond to changing conditions during a storm event?

Weather can change rapidly in Central Alberta 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 dry conditions as quickly as possible after the weather event is over, however challenging weather and cold temperatures will not always permit us to have bare and dry conditions on secondary routes. During every storm event, Mainroad provides 511 Alberta with regular updates on highway conditions.

Where can I direct concerns about road conditions to Mainroad Alberta Contracting?

Mainroad Alberta Contracting

We appreciate public feedback!  If you come across a highway situation in Central Alberta that requires maintenance, changing road conditions, or debris, please call toll free 1-877-875-3263.  Be as descriptive as possible.

Mainroad’s Call Centre is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – will record all public feedback and forward the information to our crews on shift to respond, as well as dispatch additional personnel, and update 511 Alberta.    

You can also email Mainroad: [email protected]

Follow us on social media – Mainroad Alberta Contracting currently maintains a Twitter account: @MainroadAlberta

Social Media: We regularly post road and weather updates on our social media accounts.  Please note: Mainroad’s Twitter account is not monitored 24/7, so it is best to contact our 24-hour hotline at 1-877-875-3263.

 

Where can I find news about Mainroad?

Please visit our recent news page

Here’s what you can do to stay safe during winter driving conditions:


Visit 511 Alberta | https://511.alberta.ca/#:Alerts

  • For current road conditions
  • For weather forecasts
  • For real-time conditions via webcams

Fall and winter weather can be unpredictable. During these months, we tend to experience all types of driving conditions, snow, high winds, heavy rain, fog, and icy conditions.

Listen and watch for road condition and weather reports and don’t travel if you don’t have to during severe weather events.

man scraping snow from windshieldVisit the Alberta Motor Association | Road Safety in Extreme Winter Weather

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.

Test your tires with the toonie test.

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.

Visit Emergency Preparedness | Learn how you and your family can prepare yourselves for an emergency or disaster.

Avalanche Safety | Kananaskis Country, Alberta Parks

Driving during winter driving conditions

Conditions change and so should the way you drive. Please SLOW DOWN, increase the distance between yourself and the vehicle in front of you, and drive for the conditions.

show down when conditions aren't ideal

Snowplow Safety Tips | Give time and space to the vehicles at work for you

Mainroad encourages the public to drive with caution around snowplow operations – when there’s ice and snow, take it slow!

Watch Alberta Road Builders & Heavy Construction Association’s Safer Winter Highways to learn more about snow plow safety.

Snowplows Safety Do’s and Don’t’s

Do……Turn on your head and taillights during heavy snow or rain, even during the day.

Do……Use winter-rated snow tires with the mountain-snowflake symbol.

Do……Watch for the flashing amber lights. It can be difficult to see snow removal equipment.

Do……Give snowplows plenty of space – about 10 car lengths. Salt and winter abrasives, as well as rocks and other debris in the snow, can fly – hitting nearby vehicles and decreasing visibility.

Do……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 when it is safe to do so to allow motorists to pass, so take your time, wait and be safe.

Do……Pull safely as far over to the right when you see a snowplow approaching from the opposite direction along an undivided highway. That way, you will be clear of any salt or winter abrasives.

Do……Give the snowplow operator a wave when they pull over to let you pass. They are doing the job for you!

Don’t……Assume the snowplow operator can see you, especially if you’re driving too close and visibility is poor (which it often is in snowstorms). Your best defense is to keep your distance.

Don’t……Pass snowplows. It is simply not safe. When drivers attempt to pass a plow truck, they put themselves, their passengers, the snowplow operator and other motorists at risk. The plow could be equipped with a wing blade on its left or right side, which can be obstructed by the snow it’s throwing. The plow also may be the first of a series of two to four more plows, staggered diagonally across the road to clear all lanes simultaneously. This practice is called Echelon Plowing and would require the unwise driver to make multiple unsafe passes.

Don’t……Tailgate. Tailgating any vehicle puts you at risk of a collision; tailgating a piece of heavy equipment armed with plows only ups the consequences.

Drivers may not be aware…Snowplows must travel slower than regular traffic when pushing snow and spreading salt and winter abrasives.

Snowplows stop at railway crossings to ensure it is safe to cross and that the plow blade will clear the track.

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