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Highway maintenance contractor visits Sicamous council to discuss snow clearing

AIM talks snow clearing

District of Sicamous council members had a chance to ask questions about highway snow clearing efforts when AIM Road Maintenance and the ministry of transportation appeared before the local elected officials on Wednesday.

The Feb. 14 presentation to the committee of the whole came after council sent a letter to the region's district highway manager, expressing concerns over the maintenance of local highways during the winter. Council members had heard a presentation from the daughter of a woman who was tragically killed in a collision on Highway 97A in early December.

On Wednesday, Sean Hopkins from AIM Road Maintenance provided council with an overview of winter road maintenance standards and procedures.

He said Highway 1, Highway 97, Highway 97A and Highway 97B are Class A roads, the highest priority for clearing efforts.

“When we have accumulations of snow on the road surface when the road temperature is -9 C and rising, we have to clear the lanes off within 24 hours on a Class A highway,” Hopkins said.

“When the temperatures are lower than -9 C…we have to maintain traction on those roads and put winter abrasives on within 24 hours.”

He said AIM uses sand or aggregate to provide better traction on ice and compacted snow.

“On a Class A highway, if we have icy conditions… we have 60 minutes once we’ve been notified that we have a situation where we have to get sand on that specific area,” Hopkins said.

AIM shared snow clearing process

Coun. Siobhan Rich asked if road maintenance crews were sufficiently staffed.

“90 per cent of the time, do you have 100 per cent of the workers out there?” Rich asked.

“Because you can talk, but if you don't have people that are out there — and do you have enough employees and are they able to to meet these contracts?”

Hopkins said the team is fully staffed in Sicamous.

“We put a certain number of employees in each specific shed, and when we do have a storm coming in we’ll actually beef that up. We'll call in auxiliaries, we’ll call in folks on overtime, and we'll also prop that up with subcontractors.”

Coun. Bob Evans asked what crews do when the temperatures dip lower.

“Once it gets really cold outside, once we go down [to] -10 C and lower, all we can do is put sand on and maintain traction," Hopkins said.

"Once we start putting anti icing or a de-icing agent on the road, you're going to get refreeze on a regular basis and it's just gonna build extra ice."

Hopkins said crews use a specific type of sand identified by the ministry.

“It's a very fine sand and it blows off the road very fast. So we do make multiple applications of sand, but on a Class A highway, especially where there's lots of transport trucks, it blows off on us and it's very hard for us to keep that on the surface," he said.

He said the ministry changed its specifications for the size of sand in 2019 from 12.5 millimetres to a new standard of 9.5 mm, as the finer sand is less likely to get kicked up and damage windshields.

Mayor Colleen Anderson said she talked with a resident who had noticed that the roads near Canoe seemed to be in better condition during the winter than the roads near Sicamous.

“I don't mean to be disrespectful, but there is a big difference and the road seems better after that point,” she said.

Hopkins explained Canoe is the dividing area between the roads managed by the Sicamous-based crews and the crews stationed in Tappen.

“Good for my folks to hear as well, because it gives us an issue to address with our crews to make sure they're doing the job properly,” Hopkins said.

Collision statistics shared

Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure's Erik Lachmuth shared ICBC statistics on collisions in the area.

“We took highway 97 A from the junction with 97 B up to Sicamous and pulled some statistics for the last 10 years or so, Lakmuth said. “These are all of the collisions that involve either fatalities and or injuries in that corridor.”

According to the ministry's data, there was an average of one fatality per year on that section of highway. However, statistics also showed a steady decline in non-fatal collisions resulting in an injury, from 34 in 2017 down to 18 such crashes in 2022.

“However, when it comes to incidents, predictability can be very difficult,” Lachmuth said.

He also shared statistics for Highway 1 from Salmon Arm to Sicamous.

“The fatal and total amounts of accidents here are relatively similar across this 10 year span,” Lakmuth said.

The data showed 37 crashes happened in 2018, and 26 collisions in 2022.

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