Winter Operations FAQ | Mainroad North Island Contracting LP

During winter operations, Mainroad experiences a high frequency of questions from the public and media by phone, email and social media.  This document aims to answer most frequently asked questions and provide other helpful resources.  Can’t find what you’re looking for?  Please contact Mainroad’s 24 hour public information hotline toll free at 1-877-215-7122. 

Q. What is the road/highway service area that Mainroad North Island Contracting is responsible for maintaining?
A. The North Vancouver Island Service Area 3 is approximately 3,474 lane kilometers of roadway.  This service area contains four numbered routes: Highway 19 & Highway 19A connecting the North Island Service Area with the Mid-Island Service Area 2 and at Cook Creek, Highway 28 to Gold River, and Highway 30 to Port Alice.

North Island encompasses the Comox Valley, Campbell River, Port McNeill and Port Hardy, along with the smaller municipalities of Port Alice, Alert Bay, Sayward, Gold River, Tahsis, and Zeballos. We also service the following:

  • Denman Island
  • Hornby Island
  • Quadra Island
  • Cortes Island

The service area includes the maintenance of approximately 11 Rest Areas, and 312 Structures, including 194 bridges, 74 major culverts, 33 retaining walls and four tunnels.

Q. Where are Mainroad’s maintenance yards located?
A. The headquarters and primary works yard for Mainroad North Island Contracting is in Cumberland with supporting works yards in:

  • Campbell River
  • Gold River
  • Port McNeill
  • Sayward
  • BC’s Gulf Islands | Quadra, Cortes, Denman and Hornby

Q. How many Mainroad employees are working during winter operations?
A. Our fleet and crews are fully engaged in winter maintenance operations.  Up to 64 employees plus mechanical support are available to work around the clock to keep our roads clear. 

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 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 which are primarily used by emergency services and the majority of traffic.  

In emergency situations where police, fire, and ambulance are needing assistance, Mainroad crews will clear the road for first responders to get through.  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 North Vancouver Island experiences a snow event, we need to 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 1-877-215-7122.  

Clearing down trees and vegetation after other types of winter storms such as a wind storm can take some time for our crews to respond particularly if they encounter a down power line.  In this case, crews will coordinate with BC Hydro to determine when the area is safe.  If you see a tree within 3 metres of a power line, leave the tree alone and call BC Hydro at 1-800-224-9376.   Avoid touching anything, such as a car, object or equipment, or anyone who is in contact with a fallen power line.  Keep children and pets away from fallen electric lines.  Avoid driving over a fallen power line.  Call 911 immediately to report a fallen power line.

Watch TranBC Video: Winter Maintenance on B.C. Highways

Q. What is Mainroad doing ahead of a winter storm event?
A. Mainroad crews will be patrolling service area highways and roads while monitoring the forecast closely. Crews will apply specific material to the road surface as determined by the forecast and actual weather conditions. Pre-storm activities typically include pre-salting/brining and monitoring the forecast closely.  The proactive use of an anti-icing brine (for example) is a proven way of combatting ice from forming on the highway surface.  This technique is used throughout most highway maintenance jurisdictions in North America.  During a heavy rain advisory, crews will check and clear service area catch basins. 

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.) our entire fleet and crews will be fully engaged in winter maintenance operations.  Up to 64 employees plus mechanical support are available to work around the clock plowing, sanding and/or salting as conditions warrant and patrolling the service area.  Additional crews will be called into to plow the roads.

Q. What materials does Mainroad use for winter road maintenance and when are these materials applied?
A. Mainroad uses three materials for winter road maintenance: winter abrasive, anti-ice liquids and salt.  The use of a specific material is determined by the forecast and actual weather conditions and in accordance with the standard set by the Ministry.

  • Winter Sand: The winter sand used by Mainroad is a graded material specified by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.
  • Anti-icing Brine: Anti-icing brine is 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.
  • 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.

    Salt is 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.

The use of a specific material is determined by forecast and actual weather conditions.

Q. How does Mainroad monitor weather and highways conditions?
A. As the weather can change rapidly on Vancouver Island, Mainroad is continuously monitoring weather and highway conditions.  To determine how best to protect motorists, we oversee weather in two ways:

  1. Monitoring:

    Mainroad uses MARWIS, is a mobile road weather 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.

    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.

  2. Forecasting:

    Mainroad uses Road Weather Information System (RWIS) for weather forecasting.

    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 perform 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.

More on how the BC Ministry of Transportation & Infrastructure monitors weather and highway conditions

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 numerous detailed inspections that drill into the inside workings of Mainroad’s maintenance practices.  

Q. Where can I direct concerns about road conditions to Mainroad North Island Contracting?
A. We encourage motorists, residents and cylcists to report all road condition concerns by phone to our 24-hour call centre number. 

Be as descriptive as possible.

All feedback is logged and passed onto our crews.

Mainroad North Island Contracting and the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure take the safety of the travelling public very seriously. If you come across a highway situation in Service Area 3 requiring maintenance response, please call 1-877-215-7122 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.

Our crews 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: Email – northisland@mainroad.ca

Follow us on Twitter!  Mainroad North Island Contracting currently maintains a Twitter account: @mainroadnisland

Follow us on Facebook!  Mainroad North Island Contracting also maintains a Facebook page: Mainroad North Island Contracting LP

Q. Where can I find news about Mainroad North Island Contracting
A. Please visit www.mainroad.ca.

Additional Information About B.C. Highway and Bridge Maintenance

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 and when 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.

Snow Plow Safety Do's and Don'ts

Do…

…Turn on your head and tail lights 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 snow plows 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 as far over to the right as is safe when you see a snow plow approaching from the opposite direction along an undivided highway. That way, you will be clear of any salt or winter abrasives.

Do…

…Give the snow plow operator a wave when they pull over to let you pass. They’re doing the job for you!

Don’t…

…Assume the snow plow 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 snow plows. It’s not safe. When drivers attempt to pass a plow truck, they put themselves, their passengers, the snow plow 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…

Snow plows must travel slower than regular traffic when pushing snow and spreading salt and winter abrasives.

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

Shift into Winter and TranBC Winter Driving Online Resources

Mainroad is a Winter Driving Safety Alliance partner.  We actively promote  Shift into Winter, a public awareness campaign designed to inform B.C.  drivers about the importance of safe winter driving.  We encourage everyone to visit www.shiftintowinter.ca for resources and tips on how to stay safe on the road this winter. 

Winter Driving

Routes and Driving Conditions

Excessive Speed and Careless Driving

Travelling in an Avalanche Area

Designated Winter Tire & Chain-up Routes

Passenger Vehicle - Tire and Chain Requirements

Commercial Vehicle - Tire and Chain Requirements

Motorcycle - Tire and Chain Requirements

Recreational Vehicle & Trailer - Tire and Chain Requirements

Enforcement of Winter Tires & Chains Requirements