Mainroad North Island Contracting LP is preparing for their first winter back servicing the North Island. General manager Rick Gill and operations manager, Leon Bohmer, stand in front of a snowblower they will use to clear Mount Washington. Photo by Jolene Rudisuela

Mainroad prepares to clear North Island roads this winter

Mainroad North Island Contracting LP’s road servicing contract began Sept. 1

Mainroad North Island Contracting LP is preparing for its first winter of clearing roads in the Comox Valley.

Effective Sept. 1, 2018, Mainroad has begun its 10-year contract with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, servicing roads across the North Island including Highway 19 and Highway 19A. The contract includes the option for a five-year extension.

READ MORE: New contract awarded to improve road conditions in the North Island

According to a release from the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MoTI), the new contract will ensure “higher standards and a more proactive approach when a severe weather event occurs.”

This includes ensuring that Highway 19, Highway 4 and other Class A winter highways are bare of snow and ice within 24 hours of a severe weather event, a shorter time frame than the previous standard of 48 hours.

Mainroad general manager, Rick Gill, says the company has 33 vehicles in its fleet and he believes the company’s newer trucks will help speed up the anti-icing and snow clearing process.

“They carry up to 20,000 litres of brine which gives the capacity to do long stretches of the highway so they don’t have to continually be in the yard to reload,” he said. “The previous brine trucks were tandem axle trucks and they would carry 11,000, so it’s double capacity.”

He adds that they have invested in mobile road and weather information systems to be able to better identify road conditions and predict what is coming.

Another part of the contract is enhanced communications with North Island residents, and Mainroad plans to utilize social media to spread important information about road conditions.Budget constraints not an issue, says Mainroad

Rod Nichol, Area B director at the time, called for a review of the previous contract with Emcon Services after receiving a number of complaints following a December 2016 snowstorm.

In a Letter to the Editor written by President of Emcon Services, Frank Rizzardo, he explained there was not enough money in the contract to meet the public demand.

“There are few if any changes to the annual ‘capital works’ or quantified plan that will be available to deal with the infrastructure issues raised by Mr. Nichol,” he wrote. “It will not, in fact, matter whom the contractor is as there is, in fact, a financial limit placed within the contract.”

Gill said he is confident the company will be able to do the necessary work with the budget it has, adding it’s not about the budget or funds, but about meeting the standards set by the province.

“We know this industry, there’s going to be years where you’re okay and other years where it’s gonna be a financial hurt, but you’re driven by the Ministry of Transportation’s specifications,” he said. “It’s a lump sum contract on an annual basis, so we’re here for the long-term and that kind of shares the pain over the long-term to make it work. We know every year is not going to be a great year, that’s just the reality of it.”

Ian Pilkington, director of the highway maintenance contract renewal project for the MoTI, said the contractors put in bids that determine the budget for the first year of the contract.

“It puts the onus on the contractor to figure out how they should be bidding over multiple years. What’s really good for the government is then the budgets are set,” he said.

The starting budget is then adjusted annually depending on inflation based on Statistics Canada indices for labour, fuel and materials.

“Because they are a 10-year contract with an optional five-year extension, and that was the same as in the previous round, we recognize there is inflation and all sorts of unknowns a contractor couldn’t anticipate.”

Pilkington said the new standards were taken into account in the bid for this contract, but the budget is still very similar to last year.

Nichol said he expects to see an improvement in services.

“They’ve got a totally different philosophy,” said Nichol (who lost his re-election bid Saturday). “They’re going to get on it right away – we’re not going to be waiting three or four days for a truck to show up.”

Mainroad is currently servicing all of Vancouver Island (Service Areas 01, 02 and 03) as well as the Lower Mainland.

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