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Estimates - Highways (12 March 2007)

From Intergovernmental Affairs and Infrastructure Committee Hansard - 12 March 2007

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Highways and Transportation
Supplementary Estimates

Mr. Hart: — Thank you, Mr. Chair. Minister, I have a number of questions dealing with the winter maintenance. And the first question that I would have deals with the difference that I have observed in snow and ice removal and maintenance of driving surfaces.

And I’ve noticed quite a difference between the condition of the highway on No. 6 from Regina to junction 16 and particularly that area that I quite often travel when I go to Saskatoon, from junction 22 to No. 16. That stretch of highway seems to be maintained quite well in my opinion given the, you know, various winter driving conditions that we have. But yet when one travels from junction 6 to Saskatoon, west on No. 16, the Yellowhead, I’ve observed on a number of occasions over the last two or three years that the winter maintenance isn’t what one would expect it to be on that particular section of highway given that that’s the Yellowhead Route.

And so I would just ask for comments as to why the difference, what maintenance areas are involved in the various sections of highways, and what are their priorities, and those sorts of things.

I can recall a trip to Saskatoon two years ago where we did have snow and ice, and we had a bit of a snowstorm during the night. And that section of highway, the Yellowhead section between 6 and Saskatoon was barely drivable, yet No. 6 was at least reasonable driving conditions. So I wonder if you could explain the maintenance responsibilities for those two sections of highways, and why the difference.

Hon. Mr. Lautermilch: — I’m going to, Mr. Chairman, ask Mr. Law to deal with this question. And I think perhaps Mr. Schmidt will have some additions to Mr. Law’s comments.

Mr. Law: — Thank you, Mr. Minister. The areas of the highway that the member refers to are in fact serviced by different of our section offices. And I should make maybe two or three comments with respect to the level of service.

The first one is that that particular . . . Both of those sections of highway that you referred to are maintained to the same standard. And so technically we’ve determined that for our first order of the provincial highway system, the highest order of the system that we want to maintain — this being one example — the standard will be consistent from one place to another.

Most frequently the differences that occur have to do with timing. Oftentimes we hear from travellers who will be travelling a particular section where there is a separation between the section offices where, despite the relative priority being the same, the time, if it’s a difference in terms of access or travelling distance in terms of, perhaps, the loading up of salt or sand or chemical that we might need to use on the highway, one section may have been treated earlier than another section may have been treated.

But we have a protocol that calls for a minimum threshold around the time frames that we aim to address that. And so usually we’re able to meet those, and the highways would be treated to the same standard.

Your observation is correct to the extent that there will in all likelihood be circumstances where the travelling distances, the access to materials or other things, may have affected a difference in timing.

The second thing that I wanted to comment on with respect to the common standard is that over the course of the last two years we have been working to implement an updated protocol with respect to our standards, which reflects not only our best position with respect to establishing the highest level of service that we can, it also incorporates relative information in terms of how other jurisdictions, neighbouring jurisdictions, are also managing that same protocol.

And we have set out our time frames in terms of the response times and the clearances and the applications on the basis of coming to terms with what we think makes sense, in terms of not only our local conditions and the uniqueness that may exist in our province compared to others, but also with reference to some of the technical work that is being done in terms of understanding what the best protocols are in other jurisdictions as well.

And within that we have undertaken in this . . . And last year would’ve been one of our first two seasons working at this. We’re trying to smooth out some of those perceived inconsistencies that you’re referring to where we’re increasingly having the different section offices communicate with one another around timing and have tried to equip them with a little better technology so that they can stay in touch with one another with respect to the timing associated with when they will be doing their work. So there won’t be particularly significant differences between, you know, the same sections of road where a driver may be travelling in this instance between, say Regina and Saskatoon, and become accustomed to a particular driving comfort level and then find themselves dealing with a different circumstance sort of all of a sudden.

So we have instituted some new protocols and undertaken some fairly detailed study work in terms of both the establishment of our standards and how the protocols are being applied by our operations staff.

Maybe I’ll stop there and then refer . . . Mr. Schmidt may be able to speak more specifically to the time frames and the resource commitments that are available through those two offices. That’s sort of at a level that Terry can speak to better than I can.

Mr. Schmidt: — Thank you. I can elaborate on that a little bit. The deputy did a very good job of summarizing our winter maintenance practices. At a little more detailed level, we have three different levels of service for winter maintenance. And we’ve recently reviewed these in the last year or two and updated our policy.

We have the highest level, or what we call level 1, is that we strive to within six hours of the end of the storm on economic connectors that service commuter routes around our major cities, major interprovincial and international travel routes — which Highway 16 and 6 would be part of routes that connect communities with a population of 3,000 or more or have an average daily traffic count of 1,500 or more — that’s our level 1. So we will try to, within six hours of the end of the storm, remove all snow and ice. Now it depends on conditions. Sometimes the storms can last for 12 or 14 hours, so we say six hours after the end of the storm.

The second level or the level 2 is within 12 hours at the end of the storm, we endeavour to remove all the snow and ice. These are on highways with an average daily traffic count between 300 and 1,500 vehicles. So this would be the second level.

And then the third level is within 24 hours of the end of a storm — is when all other highways, we strive to remove all the snow and ice within 24 hours of the end of a storm on all highways with 300 vehicles or less.

And then following that, the final thing we will do after a storm is what we call the cleanup. That will be the service roads, the median approaches, the approaches. That type of cleanup work will be undertaken when we’ve cleared all the other roads.

Highway 6 and 16 would both be a level 1 corridor. And there’s lots of complexities that go into winter snow and ice. And as the deputy mentioned, we locate our resources — our equipment and our labour, our people, our men and women — in the locations that will model that we can meet these levels of service requirements. So we actually do modelling that says, if the truck can plow snow at 60 kilometres an hour and it takes so much time to load in between, we actually do that modelling to ensure that we can meet those in normal conditions.

Winter is not very predictable though. And you’ve got a highway that runs north-south that oftentimes can be very different than a highway that runs east-west in Saskatchewan. So you can have conditions where the wind is blowing from the northwest and you’ll have a north-south road that needs very little attention, like Highway 6. Or you have predominantly northwest winds like we get in the winter in Saskatchewan, our east-west roads tend to see a little more need for snowplowing. They get the finger drifts. If the conditions are such the snow will stick, and we’ll have to wait for the wind to subside and do salting or sanding. So even just the direction of travel can have an impact on the type of maintenance procedures.

As well the amount of traffic can have an impact. We try to get out as quick as we can. The traffic volume on Highway 16 is almost double or near double that of 6. You get a lot of heavy trucks out there before trucks can get to plowing the snow or treating the ice. It just makes it more difficult and harder for us to get out and break that ice off and treat it off.

So there are lots of factors that come into play but, as the deputy mentioned, the crews are in communication with one another even though they may have roads that are assigned to them. The practice that we are working towards, what we’re working towards is they communicate with one another and the resources are mobile. They are not just assigned specifically to the headquarters. They go where they are needed to meet the priority levels of service.

Mr. Hart: — Thank you, both members of minister’s staff for that explanation. Just a follow-up question. The service, or areas that are, shops or maintenance shops that are responsible for maintenance on those sections of highways — particularly the, say No. 6, Southey, Raymore, up to the junction — where did the crews come from to maintain that area? And then 16 out of Saskatoon to Lanigan and up to Dafoe. If you could just outline which maintenance crews are responsible for what section of highway, that perhaps may help me understand the procedures that are in place for the overall maintenance.

Mr. Law: — Through you, Mr. Chair, perhaps the best way for us to address this, we can provide you with a map that shows you exactly what section boundaries are. And again, subject to what Mr. Schmidt said with respect to the mobility of crews, we can tell you where people are being sourced from on a general basis, and it will give you an understanding of that for these as well as others.

Mr. Hart: — That’d be great. That’d be very acceptable. Thank you. Just one or two more questions, Mr. Chair.

This additional funding for winter maintenance costs, are any of these dollars, will any of this additional funding be used to perhaps replace gravel stockpiles that had to be used for or that may have been used for winter maintenance that were intended for spring construction? I’m thinking along Highway 22 between 6 and 20 in the 310 area, the Balcarres-Ituna area. I understand that there may have been some work done in preparation for perhaps some construction that may be coming fairly soon. And my question is, are these funds being used to replace perhaps some gravel that may have been needed for winter maintenance?

Mr. Schmidt: — The funds asked for here are part of our winter snow and ice maintenance control program. The materials are specific to winter snow and ice control for this program. So we do put up winter sand, but that is used specifically for winter maintenance treatments. Aggregate put up for the summer programs would come out of surface preservation or other programs, so that would not be part of this program.

Mr. Hart: — Okay. I’m good.

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