PORT McNEILL — Bob O’Brien now knows how a North Island windshield feels.
Still, O’Brien, operations manager for the B.C. Ministry of Transportation’s Vancouver Island District, never cracked despite being peppered with criticism by the Regional District of Mount Waddington Board of Directors last week about the aggregate used on North Island roads in the winter.
The issue of windshield replacement claims by North Island drivers has been a contentious one for the past several winters. Two years ago, the Regional District formally requested the province compensate drivers for damage from gravel spread on the highway.
The Ministry’s response was that the Regional District needed to take up the matter with the contractor, Emcon. In response, Emcon officials said the company was following ministry guidelines regarding the size of material spread to combat snow and ice, creating a circular defense that locals haven’t been able to penetrate.
Invited by the board to attend a meeting to elaborate on the issue, O’Brien had no sooner settled into his seat at the head of the table when board chair Al Huddlestan got the festivities started.
“A lot of North Island drivers are hoping you could perhaps explain why they have to replace their windshields every year,” Huddlestan said.
O’Brien was ready, and produced a visual aid in the form of a screen used to sift the material, which allows gravel up to one-half inch in diameter.
“It’s the provincial standard,” said O’Brien. “It’s the same material that’s used in the entire province.”
But the directors were not convinced the gravel used here is the same as that applied in other areas.
Area D Director Dave Rushton noted insurance rates or deductibles are higher for windshield replacements for North Islanders because they live in a “high-claim area.”
And Port Hardy Mayor Bev Parnham said she never sees the rocks on the road when she travels south beyond Campbell River.
O’Brien’s response was that the material is blown or washed off the road much more quickly on the high-speed, four-lane highway so that more salt or ice-melt may be used on that part of the highway.
But he continued to defend the gravel put down on the North Island.
“We hear you, and we understand,” said O’Brien. “We take our own samples independently of Emcon’s testing. We use an engineering firm that runs the material through a sieve, and this material meets the standard.
For their part, the directors remained unconvinced local drivers are getting the same treatment as other motorists in the province.
“I’d wager everyone around this table and the other people in this room have all had to replace their windshields,” said Huddlestan, drawing several nods and no dissent. “I hear what you’re saying, but I’ll disagree with you that the material is appropriate for the application it’s being used for.”
O’Brien was also asked about replacing missing “cat’s-eye” reflectors on the highway, and was asked who bears responsibility for filling potholes (Emcon).
O’Brien did get a much warmer response from his promise that one of 50 new highway webcams scheduled to be installed in B.C. was targeted for the North Island, most likely at the Woss turnoff.
And directors credited the work of the ministry and its contractors for their work in the aftermath of last September’s flooding and road washouts.