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We’ll fix northern winter road maintenance, minister says

Better snow clearing and the ability to see the condition of highways were among promises made last week by Steven Del Duca, Ontario’s minister of Transportation, as he released the province's Winter Highway Maintenance Action Plan.
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Environment Canada has issued a special weather statement for Sudbury and the surrounding area. File photo.
Better snow clearing and the ability to see the condition of highways were among promises made last week by Steven Del Duca, Ontario’s minister of Transportation, as he released the province's Winter Highway Maintenance Action Plan.

The plan is in response to the Auditor General of Ontario Bonnie Lysyk's report on winter highway maintenance which said that, although the MTO has been successful in reducing escalating winter maintenance costs, it now takes longer to clear highways during and after a storm, making them less safe for motorists.

This new plan lays out how the province will continue to improve winter road conditions, keep drivers better informed and increase oversight of winter maintenance contractor performance. 
See the complete plan by clicking here.

Highlights include:
  • Add more equipment, such as standalone spreaders in remote, rural and congested urban areas;
  • Apply more anti-icing liquids to roads before winter storms so highways are less slippery when bad weather begins;
  • Improve the Ontario 511 website by adding live camera images and time-stamped road condition information;
  • Launch a Track My Plow program in the Owen Sound and Simcoe County areas so people can see where plows are operating on their highway or travel route. This will be expanded to other areas at a later date;
  • Work with contractors to improve equipment readiness and ensure there are trained operators available during the winter season;
  • Add dash cams in patrol vehicles and install more than 30 stand-alone roadside cameras at strategic locations.
A major complaint in Northern Ontario is that crews just don't get out fast enough during storms. 

But Del Duca says the ministry is working to fix that.

"We will be establishing a number of working groups so that we can ensure that there is a very clear understanding," the minister told Village Media.

"From the conversations I've had with the area maintenance contractors, and with the Ontario Road Building association, that there is a mutual understanding that we have a collective obligation and responsibility to get this right,” he added. “For the upcoming winter season, and for all future winter seasons we'll ensure that we're ready to go, that our plows are ready to go and we'll deliver the maintenance that people deserve."

And a number of cameras will be added to northern highways, specifically North Bay, Huntsville, Sudbury and Sault. Ste. Marie.

"We're looking at putting more cameras in all the contract areas,” said Director of Maintenance Kevin Bentley. "We're adding roughly 30 standalone cameras and that will give us about 175 standalone roadside cameras across Ontario."

Bentley did not have a number for the north specifically.

And some hope for users of "pushouts" — those small parking areas along the road used by hunters, trappers and recreational users — there may be some added.

"Some pushouts that are generally used for turning around plows are done, generally after the storm. We are aware of the request for additional areas to be plowed to accommodate the local needs. Some of those areas are not part of the current contract requirement but there are ongoing local discussions towards adding some additional areas," said Bentley.

But Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli is skeptical anything will change.

"We'll believe it when we see it," Fedeli told BayToday. "I think the proof will be the condition of the highways this winter. They're adding $5 million to an area where … the root problem was (caused) in 2009 when they changed the way the contracts were administered to save $36 million and they put people's lives at risk."



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Jeff Turl

About the Author: Jeff Turl

Jeff is a veteran of the news biz. He's spent a lengthy career in TV, radio, print and online, covering both news and sports. He enjoys free time riding motorcycles and spoiling grandchildren.
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