Province penalizes Carillion for not meeting snowplowing standards
MUSKOKA – Whether it was the mayors’ letter to the premier, MPP Norm Miller’s complaints in the legislature, or Twitter sphere – the province’s Liberal government has finally paid attention.
Call it better late than never.
Almost two months after winter came in like a lion the first week of December, the Ministry of Transportation is issuing penalties to the companies that keep the provincial highways open to keep the economy going.
The MTO has fined four firms that plow in northeastern and northwestern Ontario.
The penalty amount for not meeting contractual obligations has not been announced by the MTO.
That includes Carillion, the “global” infrastructure and construction company that hasn’t been doing the job this winter.
At least not up to the standards of the MTO and the car and truck drivers who have had to put up with substandard roads.
Snow-covered roads and pot holes are the new norm, slowing traffic and causing more accidents – and risking more lives.
Complaints have been lighting up the Twitter sphere and Facebook world as videos of terrible road conditions go viral.
Muskoka mayors, through the District, finally sent a joint letter to Kathleen Wynne earlier this month demanding action.
Good luck, most thought.
Then Miller chimed in.
But it was more likely the Internet that lit the fire of premier and got her to get on the case of the contractors.
That and the fact a spring election is likely to blow in this spring on the heels of three more months of un-navigatable roads.
Contractors blame record early winter snowfalls.
Drivers call that a snow job. They believe the level of service has dropped – intentionally or not.
Whatever the case, roads have never been this bad.
In Muskoka Carillion took over maintenance in 2012 and this year has also seen the introduction of “tow plows,” the trucks with the two-lane plowing system.
They require only one driver with a heavy-duty front plow and a lighter-weight trailing plow that can be swung out to supposedly cover the right lane beside.
It’s a system that doesn’t work due to a lack of sufficient weight on the second lane.
That aside, roads aren’t being scraped to the pavement as in past years by other – often local contractors, such as Fowler’s and Robinson’s in south Muskoka which have cleared highways 11, 69 and 169 for years.
Carillion is large national company.
A division of it, KWD, plows roads in Simcoe Country, where the transit lane appear better south of SevernBridge.
Some say that’s because there’s not as much snow.
Others feel the standards are higher.
Calls to Carillion weren’t returned.
But Bob Nichols, senior media officer with the MTO, said Thursday in an email response to MuskokaTODAILY:
“In Northeastern Ontario, MTO has five maintenance areas maintained by four separate maintenance contractors – DBi Services (Sudbury), Transfield Services (North Bay & Sault Ste. Marie), Carillion Canada (Huntsville) and IMOS (New Liskeard-Cochrane). This winter has seen non-conformances to our outcome targets being imposed in all five maintenance areas leading to financial consequences being issued.
“Our maintenance contracts include approximately 30 different performance outcome targets related to winter maintenance.
“The ministry monitors the contractor’s operations to ensure they are meeting the requirements of their contract and our high standards for winter maintenance. Through the use of automated vehicle locaters (GPS), ministry staff routinely monitors equipment response times and equipment route times. Snow accumulation, time to achieve bare pavement conditions, radio logs and police call reports, and on road monitoring are also reviewed to ensure maintenance standards are met. If we find that an operational requirement is not met, we impose consequences in order to compel the contractor to review and modify their operations to ensure that requirements are met in the future.
“The ministry has a regular review/audit program for all contracts as part of its general oversight of the area maintenance contracts. These financial consequences resulted from our regular audit program of all contracts.
“We do not release specific information on non-conformances or the specific amount of financial consequences imposed on contractors, as this is a contractual matter between the ministry and the contractor.
“However, we can provide general examples of the types of items that can receive a financial non-conformance:
• For failure to begin plowing once snow reaches two centimetres:
• an initial $5,000 consequence per vehicle
• a subsequent $1,000 consequence for each additional 30 minutes until corrected
• For failure to begin spreading within 30 minutes:
• an initial $5,000 consequence per vehicle
• As subsequent $1,000 consequence for each additional 15 minutes until corrected
“There are similar financial consequences for other activities such as circuit times, continuous operations and the bare pavement standard.”
In response to questions about whether standards will change now, Nichols said:
“The safety of the people traveling on Ontario highways is a responsibility that the ministry takes very seriously. Our winter maintenance standards have been developed based on extensive experience and are consistent with the best practices of highway authorities in North America.
“This winter has seen multiple extreme winter events across the region which can make it challenging.
“The contractors employ local people ensuring they are well trained, knowledgeable and experienced. Most of the contractor’s employees are former staff of the ministry and former winter maintenance contractors. They are very familiar with winter operations and local conditions.
“Our maintenance contracts include approximately 30 different performance outcome targets related to winter maintenance. While our contractors do an excellent job of maintaining the province’s highways, it is not uncommon that some non-conformances are assessed. The purpose of a non-conformance is to compel the contractor to review and modify their operations to ensure that requirements are met in the future. The process should lead contractors to continually strive for 100% compliance of all contract requirements.
“While the ministry and its contractors strive to provide a very high level of highway maintenance it is important for drivers to adjust to changing winter road conditions. Stay Alert, Slow Down and Stay in Control — the three key elements of safe winter driving. Drive according to highway and weather conditions. Keep a safe distance between you and the vehicle in front of you to avoid situations where you may have to brake suddenly on a slippery surface. Keep a safe distance from trucks that are plowing, salting or sanding the road. Check the weather and travel conditions before heading out (ontario.ca/511 or call 511). Don’t take chances if the weather is bad. Allow yourself extra time for travel or wait until conditions improve.”
Nichols noted that the OPP issued a news release yesterday about the need to adjust driving to the conditions – http://www.opp.ca/ecms/index.php?id=405&nid=1103
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