Blame the Road Maintenance

Road Construction Worker ImageI exchanged messages last week with a commercial truck driver who was less than impressed with the winter maintenance of B.C.'s highways. There is no doubt in my mind that when your livelihood depends on being able to keep your truck moving road maintenance is a subject near and dear to your heart.

My question is, was this gentleman speaking from emotion or was he being realistic?

Image of Road Maintenance by Snowplough

Road Maintenance Expectations

If money was no object, we could hire enough people and equipment that snow removal vehicles would pass by you on any highway in BC like transit buses in downtown Vancouver at rush hour. 

This is not realistic of course. Our taxes would not support it and what would you do with all that manpower and machinery when the snow wasn't falling?

I'm Responsible for Me

When I travel in winter, part of the plan includes the decision on whether it is appropriate to travel at all. If it is, and I run into an unforeseen situation, it's up to me to have some stake in being able to look after myself. 

Good winter tires, chains, jumper cables, a shovel, some sand, breakdown warnings, you get the idea. 

I cannot and should not place 100% of the job on the shoulders of the road maintenance contractors.

Road Maintenance Standards

The B.C. Government publishes the specifications that the road maintenance contractors must meet. If you feel that they are not being met, you can bring this to the attention of the appropriate MLA.

Sometimes Road Conditions are not Ideal

Yes, sometimes road maintenance is not ideal. People get sick and can't come to work, equipment breaks down and Mother Nature just dumps more snow out of the sky than even the best can cope with.

It's all a compromise and in my experience the crews seem to do quite well more often than not.

Reporting Road Maintenance Problems

The following maps contain contact information for maintenance reports. Simply click on the area of the incident for reporting details.

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As a professional driver myself I would be willing to bet that this driver probably was speaking from emotion, somewhat. That being said, as a former police officer, you should know how powerful and how wrong the implications you just made are.

You know as well as we do that commercial vehicles MUST carry chains during the winter season. You also know that with driving on our Canadian highways, commercial drivers have no choice but to "take care of themselves ". I must agree that road maintenance is lacking considering the amount of taxes we pay. The reason I say this is there has been many occasions where you can travel hundreds of kilometres and not see one snowplow. Of course there has to be realistic expectations, but shouldn't that be from both sides?

As far as deciding whether or not to travel, it's really not that simple for us. If we don't continue on and put our lives at risk, then you go without. Your groceries don't come in, you won't get the new computer to type your messages on to the internet, and the chains you need for your truck simply won't get there.

I will say again, as a former police officer you know the power of implications. You held a position that commands respect from a large part of our society. You protect us and our best interests. My profession is taken for granted and generally looked down upon usually with great disdain. For you to infer that he wasn't being realistic and wasn't taking care of himself is very frustrating and disappointing. You seem to have the same mentality as most of society. This makes me very sad because I hold someone in your position to a higher standard.

In reply to by krofte (not verified)

I must agree that road maintenance is lacking considering the amount of taxes we pay.

I always wonder what people mean when they say this. Apparently from the taxes we pay there should be no waits for specialists, police on every block, covered drugs/vision/dental, cleared to asphalt roads during the worst blizzards, etc. etc. 

So what us your measure for how our specific taxes relate to this particular service? 

Trucker was being quite clear when I read his reason to opine the way he did. I am old enough to know how we used to have consistent road maintenance and what we have to judge our pay for service now. Example: along the shore where I live in the interior, we used to have a grader on standby, smaller than todays standard; the province had smaller single axle plow trucks and many of them; they could plow the side roads because they fit. They got paid to put chains on, so the smaller trucks did a handy job during the storm snow. During the need for them, they were dispatched in pairs it appeared. As it is now, YRB has one truck servicing a large area; as for the side roads it  will be 3 days before any attention is given to them. Some of these roads the big tandem beasts cannot fit - won't go because it means chaining up. There is one Grader to service a very large area, a big beautiful John Deere, fully computerized. For the most part it sits at the bottom of a long road up to a ski hill. Now how is that? That I pay taxes like everybody else and yet I am subsidizing them to monopolize our grader.

 The current system thanks to our old Socred/Con Gov't. when the provincial assets were sold off and some party got rich to become road contractors, was the dawning of more of less maintenance. I will add that the contractor here told me they are not responsible for the road outside of the white fog line; are they making up their own rules?

Whats with laying it down heavy dood?

If all the truckers just quit today, next week we'll have trains and automated electric delivery dollies shooting from stations to grocery shops. Computers would be delivered by flying drones, and you would be permanently out of the job. Get ready for it.

Trucking is the least ecological, the least effective, the most infrastructure damaging way to operate the movement of goods to and from places in this century. If we as a society decided to build a pneumatic tube delivery system across the continent and to each dwelling - it would still be more ecological and more efficient than trucking. The sole reason "truckkin" is still around is because of your lobbies and unions and persons in high positions perpetually continuing the myth that life will stop with trucks.

That was the emotional part.

Don't you lay down so heavy on the person who voices the true and natural principle of "Saving the life from drowning is primarily the business of those who are drowning". You are antiquated in your view of the Police character, and this site's host is  one of the very few who actually meet the highest standards, more so than any other officer I've had the pleasure to deal with.

What about the potholes and exposed manholes?

How many times I've had or seen my friends had to repair/replace their wheels and tires, it's a yearly thing.  Sometimes ICBC covers it, but most of the time they don't.  If you have expensive wheels/tires, getting 3rd party insurance is a must I find.

But really, the roads should be maintained better.  The $1800 I pay every 4 years ($450 a year) would be better suited to pay the government to fix things such as giant potholes quickly, or at least fill them temporarily until they can be fixed.  I remember one time driving through the George Massey tunnel in my 1993 Civic hatchback when I drove though an unavoidable pothole about the size of a coffee table and maybe 2 or more feet dip.  The side of my car literally dipped what felt like 45 degrees and I could hear the bottom of my car getting scratched very loudly.  Fortunately, besides some scratches, no damage to the wheels or tires.

On the other hand, when I lived in Germany, I don't actually remember seeing something like a pothole.  Maybe they were there, but just not big enough to notice.  You do pay an additional "tax" just for use of the roads there, but in exchange the roads are immaculate.  Even in remote villages, up in the mountains or deep in the valleys through cave tunnels, I would be surprised to find even a rock on the road.  I'm not sure how they do it, whether it's just a ton of maintenance or different concrete, but all the roads are so nice and pretty, and the paint on them (lane division, turn directions, etc) always looks fresh, never faded.  Maybe it's just the price we pay to have such a large country.  I'm sure all the roads in Germany are like 1% of what we have in Canada.

But back to Canada, I'd really be willing to pay more for better roads.  Mostly the potholes that cause yearly damage.  I've heard from cyclists even worse stories.  This guy had to pay $1,200 for damage to his truck caused by hitting a pothole.

... and see if you can figure out what every item in that room has in common.

If all the truckers just quit today, next week we'll have trains and automated electric delivery dollies shooting from stations to grocery shops. Computers would be delivered by flying drones, and you would be permanently out of the job. Get ready for it.

Trucking is the least ecological, the least effective, the most infrastructure damaging way to operate the movement of goods to and from places in this century.

Yup, each item was, at some point, delivered on a truck.  If the truckers just quit today, the economy would grind to an abrupt halt.  That's just the way it is.

And as for being the least ecological, etc, think on this: if you FedEx something from Vancouver to Seattle, they can get it there next day.  But it will go via Knoxville Tennessee in an airplane or two to get there!

So, there are sub-categories in the industry that plays a role to some degree. Those that do line haul are like the bus drivers. Same route, same schedule. Plus, many in this role are subject to losing pay if they can't make their arrival time. Other's, like myself, are per load based. So being on time is always ideal, however, should we miss our delivery time, no big deal. Our incentive is to be empty as soon as possible, with the hope that our next load is already waiting to be put on our trucks. This plays a major role in overall safety, moreover if the regulators looked at this, I am sure they would ban such practices for the sake of public safety alone.

As for winter driving conditions; some truckers think we should be pushing our loads through, regardless of the potential hazards. My rule of thumb is to always put my safety, my truck, and my customers' load above my arrival schedule. If I need chains to keep driving, that means I also need to consider the road conditions on the other side of the pass I am wanting over. Us guys that have been around a while know you're better to park till the crews have cleaned the roads, than you are to become the reason why the road is closed for everyone.

Maybe I have a more unique perspective much like you do having been on the scene of one too many fatals. Plus I spent many years building winter roads, let alone driving on them. Our friend who contacted you complaining about winter road maintenance still needs to learn patience, and respect for mother nature when she chooses to show us her fury. Otherwise his choice to push through rather than park and wait could be his end doing.

This is one of those situations where I have to eat a little crow. I remember when the discussion was going on about contracting the service out and I was 100% behind it. In those days we called the Department of Highways the Department of Holidays. What we didn't know is that in most cases a group of highway maintenance workers would get together and bid on the contracts. So what you ended up with was you now have a group of guys that not only want to have a raise in their wages but also a nice tidy profit on top of that. I'm not being nasty here as I know some of the original owners. We went to high school together.

Now we are a few decades down the road from when the first contracts were let. Today when it comes to renewals there is a bidding war. Our government in all contracts always put in a clause saying the lowest bidder may not necessarily be accepted. This allows a low bid to be refused if considered they cannot meet the conditions. Unfortunately this is never the case. So what you have seen over the years is a deterioration in maintenance as they just cannot afford or have the equipment or personnel to meet the conditions. But they still want that profit. 

If you get a mild winter with little snow in most cases the contractors meet all the conditions. Throw in a heavy snowfall or a freezing rain and they just can't cope. Won't say all but in most areas I expect they have outside contractors they can call in for help. What happens here is these companies service their primary customers first. 

Over the years I have complained. I have gone into the Ministry office of the official in charge of maintenance for that area and it is almost always the same answer. There doing the best they can. Waiting for more equipment to become available. Had to pull equipment off to clear the school bus routes. The local MoTH representative is always the companies supporter rather than telling them to get out there and do the work. Which one has to recognise they can't do as there both understaffed and under equipped to handle. Where I currently live they have three plow trucks to handle 100K of Class A road. This is sufficient under most conditions, throw in the one or two heavy storms one gets yearly and their overwhelmed. 

Another problem in my opinion you have today is that rather than plowing the roads they have switched to pouring a liquid anti-ice or salt relying on the heavy commercial vehicles to turn the snow into slush to be squished off the road. This works but you end up with ridges of slush which have contributed to accidents. 

Now we have not discussed signage. It is common that signs are still snow covered a week after the storm. Locals no problem we know the roads, for the tourist it can be extremely dangerous. Then you have lane markings. Always repainted at the start of spring. By this time of year in most cases they are non-existence. 

Are the roads maintained as well as they use to be? Definitely not. The MoTH can point to the new contract conditions and claim look at what we have improved. Nothing you put into writing is any good unless you have the local official enforcing the conditions. And that is one of the biggest problems. And the companies know they can get away with it.