Standards, snow and cash factor into snow plow response
Posted By KAREN BEST, CHRONICLE STAFF WRITER
Feb 6, 2009
Snow blows across the road as Ted Pitcher heads out to work but his trip is cut short when he finds his route off Lakeshore Road is clogged with snow.
When he is asked when that happened, he stops to think. There's been so many mornings like that, he says.
One day, he tried to drive up the Hald-Dunn Townline but it was so badly blown in that a car and a school bus was stuck half way up the road. The two drivers were waiting for a plow and a tow truck. Pitcher turned around and fought his way back to his Lakeshore Road home and then waited a plow to go by. It was just another day where snow made him late getting to work in Stoney Creek.
Once he got stuck and couldn't move and even a tow truck would not venture out to help.
Eventually someone on an ATV arrived and taxied him home. Pitcher says he went back to his pick up truck the next morning and found a police officer, who could not drive his cruiser down the road, walking to investigate his abandoned vehicle.
In the wee hours of Jan. 30, a Chronicle rural delivery agent finds himself captive in a drift. For almost seven hours he is stranded. People stop to check on him and to see if they can help but this is obviously a job for a plow or a tow truck.
"I know they are fighting against the wind blowing snow off fields," says Pitcher. "One time it was 24 hours before a plow drove down Lakeshore Road.
Now, like a Boy Scout, he is prepared. He has extra gloves, pants and a shirt in his truck just in case.
Pitcher's experiences are the result of a blustery winter season, minimum standards for snow and ice removal, legislated limits to workers' hours in trucks and limited county finances.
Wray Oakes has received numerous complaints over the past three months due to drifting and blowing snow. As the county's road operations manager, he is the person overseeing snow and ice removal.
"It's been a long winter," he says.
In 2003, before he was working in the municipality, county council adopted minimum standards for addressing winter road conditions.
"Minimum standards help municipalities set standards in defence of liability. They are tested in court," explains Oakes.
The legislated standards were set by the Ontario government at the request of municipalities facing snow-related lawsuits.
The standards are based on depth of snow, response time and road class.
Operations staff assess the road network, establish classes and design a snow removal system that adheres to standards, he says. Under the county's policy which exceeds provincial standards, not every road will be taken to bare or centre bare conditions.
A 90 per cent sand and 10 per cent salt mixture is applied to improve traction on Class 4 and 5 roads, which include almost every Dunnville street. The goal is to take roads to centre bare or track bare conditions.
Class 5 roads and streets have a 50km speed limit and between 200 and 999 cars travelling on it every day. Within 16 hours of icy conditions, Class 5 streets must be treated. Response time is measured from the end of the storm.
Class 2 roads are Haldimand Road 54 and Highway 56 and connecting links including Highway 3 through Dunnville and Highway 6 through Jarvis and Caledonia.
Four years after standards were set, the Ontario government amended the Highway Traffic Act to set limits on how long a person can drive a truck.
County plow drivers are scheduled accordingly. They are on the road at 4:30 a. m. and drive back into public works yards by 5 or 6 p. m. Workers who start later drive until 7 p. m.
In the evening or past midnight, the county is not servicing roads due to minimum service levels and the inability of staff to respond due to limits on working hours, notes Oakes.
People are surprised to hear this because they expect plowing when roads are snowy, he adds.
Over the years, a number of changes were made by the county in an attempt to bring plowing into compliance with Ontario law.
In Nov. 2007, council approved spending $170,000 to hire part time drivers for six months. At that time, Oakes warned council that without adding personnel, the county faced fines for failing to meet working hour limits for drivers.
Last October, council agreed to spending $103,000 for wages for temporary fulltime plow drivers for the remainder of 2008. A sum of $180,000 was to be added to the 2009 budget to cover remaining winter control costs for this season.
In his 2008 report, Oakes stated that three workers were deployed in the four county districts but even with this extra help, the county could not provide 100 per cent of its services for about six per cent of the season.
Main arterial roads such as Haldimand Roads 17 and 54 are maintained by contractors as necessary but roads categorized in levels 4, 5 and 6 are not. Traffic volume is a key factor in service levels.
"Our guys have been fantastic working day after day for extended hours," says Oakes.
They are assigned to specific routes. With a run from Selkirk to the Hald-Dunn Townline taking five hours, the plow might not arrive in South Cayuga until mid-morning, he adds.
In extreme conditions, visibility becomes a problem so plough drivers travel very slowly which adds to delays in operations, says Oakes.
Like Oakes, Don Ricker's phone has been ringing a lot this winter because he is the Haldimand County councillor representing people living along the lake from Mohawk Point to the Hald-Dunn Townline.
Ninety per cent of the lake is frozen so that makes a huge difference with blowing snow, he says. So much snow lands the roadways that there isn't room to pile it. After storms, county crews move piles from one side of the road to the other in an attempt to reduce drifting, he adds.
This winter, the county has deployed as much manpower and equipment as possible. Ricker says graders, back hoes and all available plows have been on the roads making them safe for people on their way to work or on their way home.
Ricker knows people want to see plows out moving snow and salting roads at all hours but it's not possible. Limits are set for municipal employees and hiring numerous contractors is expensive.
"We can't afford to put trucks on the road 24/7," says Ricker. "I know people are getting stuck and we hope they will get home."
Even so, some public works employees are available on an on-call basis. In the case of an emergency and access blocked to paramedics, firefighters or police officers, a plow driver is called out to clear the way to the emergency, says Ricker. This protocol has been used this winter, he adds.
Some of the responsibility falls on residents who decide when and where they want to go, points out Ricker.
"It's been a long time since we had a winter like this," he says. "It's been non-stop since November."
And it will be an expensive winter. Ricker believes expenses will exceed levels set in the county's winter control budget.
People realize this is a winter like one the county has not experienced in many years, says Coun. Buck Sloat.
Drawing on his knowledge as a member of the Haldimand County Hydro board, Sloat points out that the local hydro utility has the second highest kilometres of wires in Ontario. That relates to the quantity of roads so it's difficult to clear snow in a large geographic area, he added.
Article ID# 1422689
Monday, February 9, 2009
Standards, snow and cash factor into snow plow response