(DriveBC webcam) Live webcam footage of Highway 19 near Port Alice, which is the only webcam past Woss.

Mainroad: ‘We would like to be more proactive,’ in wake of highway crash

“We responded within the ministry’s specifications,” manager of operations said on recent collision.

Are you prepared for winter road conditions?

Mainroad North Island Contracting warns locals of the possible risks of winter driving. The company, which recently won the North Island highway maintenance contract from the Ministry of Transporation and Infrastructure (MTI), also reminds North Island residents how to prepare for the unpredictable weather in the coming months.

RELATED: North Island highway crash resulting in serious injuries still under investigation

Mainroad’s operating manager for the North Island Leon Bohmer alleviated concerns raised by North Islanders following a multi-vehicle accident on Nov. 19, resulting in serious injuries for two people who were sent to a Victoria hospital. The company had flaggers on the scene during incident investigation.

“We did respond and provide traffic control,” Bohmer said. He then added that Mainroad responds “based on forecasting and patrols. We had patrols … and it was bare and dry.” The operations manager stated the company had, in fact, dispatched a salt truck early that morning at 5:30 a.m. and 6:30 a.m.

“Patrols have increased when we are in our winter conditions, say a snowstorm,” he said. “We have to patrol within 90 minutes” of an incident, Bohmer noted. “We were within that specification. Obviously, we’d like to be there more proactively,” he also mentioned, “we met our obligation but we would like to be more proactive,” he emphasized. Bohmer mentioned that the company plans to train and coach staff on company expectations so to meet the ministry’s requirements.

“We were out before the frost was building on the road,” he added. The company dispatched two patrols that day, according to Bohmer. The company wants to be “in front of any condition,” the manager said.

North Island locals voiced concern over what could be a misconception of the company not having enough equipment, “but we do,” he noted. “We actually have five units in the area. We have adequate equipment, plus we have a lot of new equipment (with) bigger capacity than what was used in the area.”

He also stated Mainroad has five plows onsite, which has what is called wings, and one salt truck that is regularly dispatched for the North Island. The company also preordered new units with specialized equipment last January. Bohmer noted that the company wanted to “hit the ground running. We’re in a position to be proactive with what we have.”

“What that means is they can plow a wider area,” he said. The plow trucks are near double in capacity, he noted during a phone interview, with around 20,000 litres of brine per truck, instead of the prior 11,000 litres tanker size. Mainroad’s brine and salt trucks are capable of covering around 200 kilometres of highway with one load of crystal salt or sand, which is just shy of the 230 kilometres of highway spanning between Port Hardy and Campbell River.

Brine is a type of salty water which is used to clear ice from roadways. Bohmer pointed out the company has “a tremendous amount of salt, probably enough for two years. Far more than what’s needed” for this season.

“We felt that we could cover the entire area with one single load,” he said of the company’s frost and ice prevention along the highway.

As for moving the maintenance yard to Port McNeill, the company noted that Port McNeIll is better located to service the North Island compared to when it was based in Port Hardy.

In response to the incident, Bohmer said it was “quite unfortunate.” The company had around three months to mobilize for the winter season since winning the contract, he concluded.

Mainroad has maintained the island highway previously from 1995 to 2003. Bohmer made mention that a number of managers, including himself, and the majority of the company’s staff have worked on the North Island for some time.

In a Nov. 20 media release, the company also reminded locals of the dangers of driving during winter time: “slow down. No matter how much driving experience you have, the way your vehicle will handle on snow, ice or rain can be unpredictable.”

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