Most of these changes impact commercial vehicles, and highways in the Southern Interior and Northern parts of B.C. If you’re a frequent visitor to these areas, these are changes you should become familiar with.
Following an intense winter on the mainland, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure is undertaking several improvements to make British Columbia highways safer and more reliable during winter months.
The ministry is moving on a number of measures, including:
- Stricter commercial vehicle chain-up requirements, including higher fines for commercial vehicles not carrying chains, or not chaining up when required. Currently, the fine is $121.
- A pilot program to restrict commercial vehicles from using the far left lane on key three-lane highway sections in the winter, to ensure routes remain open to snow plows, emergency vehicles and passenger vehicles.
- Investing $1.8 million over the next three years in additional weather stations and overhead message signs to provide better real-time weather and road condition information.
- Enhanced road-maintenance contractor monitoring and auditing, leveraging new tools and technology, like road weather stations, variable speed limit systems, and GPS tracking of snow plows.
- Extending winter tire and chain regulations on select highways, including mountain passes and rural routes in high snowfall areas, from Oct. 1 to April 30 (instead of March 31), to account for early-spring snowfall.
- More support for the Winter Driving Safety Alliance through a specific winter driving campaign, to promote safe winter driving behaviour and awareness for all drivers.
The ministry will be engaging publicly with the commercial trucking industry, and other stakeholders, in the coming months on the implementation of the new safety measures, with required regulatory changes expected to be in place by next winter.
Here is an expanded look at the highway maintenance improvements the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure will be implementing:
Stricter commercial vehicle chain-up requirements – Commercial vehicle safety is a priority, especially on mountain passes. The ministry will enforce higher fines for commercial vehicle operators not carrying chains, or who don’t chain up when mandatory. The exact fine amounts are yet to be determined. Other North American jurisdictions have fines up to $1,200 for similar violations.
Commercial vehicle lane restrictions – During winter months, limiting the lanes on certain corridors that commercial vehicles can use will reduce the risk of collisions with passenger vehicles, and highway blockages due to spun-out trucks. On key three-lane highway sections during winter, commercial vehicles will be restricted from using the far left lane, to ensure more reliable and safe access for the traveling public. When all lanes are blocked, the ability for emergency crews and maintenance equipment to move along the highway is eliminated, compounding the closure.
Investing in more weather stations and overhead signs – The ministry will invest $1.8 million over the next 3 years in weather stations and overhead highway signs to give drivers as much information as possible while traveling during challenging conditions. Weather stations are an important tool for maintenance contractors to proactively plan for winter storms, and also support compliance reporting by ministry staff. Digital overhead signs are vital in sharing real-time weather data and road conditions for all drivers.
Improved road maintenance contractor oversight – B.C. has some of the highest standards for highway maintenance in the world, and we want to ensure our maintenance contractors are meeting those standards. Ministry staff will expand contractor monitoring and auditing, including 24/7 compliance checks during winter storms. New tools and technology will enhance this oversight, including the use of GPS tracking of snow plows.
More support for safe winter driving awareness – The Winter Driving Safety Alliance, which is dedicated to improving road safety throughout the province, is managed by WorkSafeBC, and funded by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure and ICBC. The alliance executes a highly successful Shift Into Winter campaign annually, using multiple platforms to promote safe winter driving and awareness. The ministry will provide more funding and social media support for this important campaign to ensure it reaches more British Columbians.
Winter tire and chain regulation expansion – The current regulations require drivers to equip their vehicles with winter tires on most B.C. highways, and all commercial vehicle operators to carry chains, from Oct. 1 to March 31. Motorists must have either M + S (mud and snow) or mountain/snowflake tires with a minimum tread depth of 3.5 millimetres, and commercial drivers must use chains when mandatory chain-ups are in place, or conditions warrant their use. The ministry will expand the date range through to April 30 on select highways and mountain passes, to account for potential early spring snowfall events which occur regularly in the Southern Interior and Northern regions of the province.
Highway maintenance contract changes:
- B.C.’s highway maintenance program is broken down into 28 service areas.
- 26 of the 28 service areas are up for contract renewal in 2018-19, through an open bidding process.
- The new contract will require a more proactive approach to highway maintenance around winter weather events. The biggest improvements over the last contract are:
- On Class A highways, a return to bare pavement within 24 hours of a winter weather event ending (old standard was 48 hours) at temperatures warmer than -9 C, when de-icing chemical use is effective.
- An increase in patrol frequency to 90 minutes on a Class A highway like the Coquihalla during a winter storm (old standard was four hours).
- When a weather event is forecasted to occur, an increase in patrol frequency to 4 hours in anticipation of the weather event coming (old standard was 24 hours)
- A contractor requirement to use remote weather information systems to forecast when a weather event will occur, and to spread anti-icing chemicals prior to the weather event.
- A 9.5 millimetre abrasive size (old standard was 12.5 millimetres) to reduce potential windshield damage.
- Service Area 11 in East Kootenay was the first to sign this new contract in fall 2016, and Service Area 20 in Robson (McBride) will be up for renewal in 2021.
- The ministry’s maintenance contractors maintain nearly 47,000 kilometres of road and 2,800 bridges in some of the most challenging terrain in Canada.
- Crews apply 750,000 tonnes of winter abrasives over 1.2-million kilometres and 100,000 tonnes of salt to highways throughout B.C.
- The Coquihalla summit had a total snowfall of 830 centimetres from Oct. 1, 2017, to the end of February 2018 — 114% higher than the 10-year average.
- Kootenay Pass had a highest ever recorded snowfall of 1012 centimetres from Oct. 1, 2017 to the end of February 2018 — 148% higher than the 10-year average.
- The Coquihalla has an average of 21 full closures per winter. Through January 2018, there were 35 closures, 31 of them involving commercial vehicles.