Snow Removal FAQs
Frequently Asked Questions about snow removal.
What is the priority order of plowing roads and highways?
BC highways are classified by the Ministry of Transportation as Class A, B, C, D, E & F and are maintained in that order.
During storms, the focus is to keep main routes open, safe and flowing. We also continuously update road condition information on DriveBC, so you can know what to expect before you go.
Can I push the snow from my driveway out on to the highway?
Some residents and property managers have been plowing their driveway snow onto ministry roads, and they need to know that it’s illegal and their actions put people and property in peril.
Highway maintenance during this storm was not enough. Where were the contractors? I drove from here to there and didn’t see a plow the entire time!
Highway maintenance contracts are intended to provide a safe level of winter maintenance and include provisions for storm preparation and clean-up. Contractors are also required to provide specific levels of resources, like equipment, personnel and road maintenance supplies, and to plan and allocate these resources effectively. The Ministry of Transportation & Infrastructure sets performance specifications consistent with other jurisdictions across North America, and they hold the contractors responsible for the services they deliver.
It is important to stress that BC highways have different winter maintenance classifications depending on their traffic volumes and location. Busier and more geographically challenging routes (such as the Coquihalla) have a shorter allowable time frame for plowing cycles; while less busy highways and sideroads have a longer allowable time frame.
This means that, unless a traveller was stationary for 1 ½ – 4 hours, they might not see any maintenance vehicles working on the road, when in actual fact, a maintenance vehicle could be right behind them on the road, or just ahead – depending where they are in their patrol. Ministry staff also actively patrol roads and highways to make sure the maintenance contractors are out in enough force and using all available tools appropriately, including sand, salt and snow removal equipment to keep travellers moving safely.
The current contracts do not limit the hours or the effort the contractors must employ to meet the clear road standards. If necessary, contractors will be in 24/7 mode – operating around the clock – and hire additional private trucks and equip them with plows and sanders to meet the conditions.
Highway maintenance was better before privatization in 1988
One thing we hear regularly is “highway maintenance in BC was better in the old days (pre-privatization).” A lot of things have changed since the “old days” – some things for the better (mullets anyone?!) One thing that has certainly improved are the tools we use to battle winter weather on BC highways. Here are a few:
- Maintenance Vehicles
During the 1960s and 1970s, BC had more crews because we also had smaller maintenance vehicles. These were slower one-tonne trucks which could not hold nearly the amount of sand that newer tandem and tri-axle trucks can hold. Modern trucks also plow at greater speeds and allow for more efficient crew sizes and deployment. We also use cool tools, like the tow plow, to get the job done in one go.
- Road Weather Stations and Intelligent Transportation Systems
Back in the late 1970’s, a handful of independent weather stations were used to send weather information to our offices. Since that time, our weather monitoring program has grown into a sophisticated network of environmental road weather sensing stations that help us monitor and respond to changing road conditions. We also use this data to transmit important information to motorists through our Variable Speed Limit Systems and Dynamic Message Signs. This helps drivers make informed decisions about when and where they should go. That being said – some things have changed for the worse. Today, we see more frequent and extreme weather events, not to mention more traffic volume on the road.
- Maintenance Vehicles
Contractors are skimping on salt/sand!
Maintenance contractor crews apply salt, salt brines, anti-icing agents and abrasives (sand or small aggregate) or combinations thereof to address conditions based on current and anticipated weather conditions throughout the day. Contractors watch weather forecasts closely and use their local knowledge of specific areas to determine when, how much and where they apply them. During patrols, contractors also monitor and respond to slippery conditions as required. It is not to their benefit in any way to skimp on materials. The liabilities for contractors failing to perform their work to the contractual standards exceed any gain from shorting materials. The contractors are required to provide specific levels of resources and to plan and allocate these resources effectively.
Learn more about salt brine here: https://www.tranbc.ca/2021/03/08/revealing-the-anti-icing-and-de-icing-magic-of-brine/
I often see plows driving around with their blade up. What good does that do?
At times, a front plow blade may be up in a “v” shape – that choice is determined by the volume of snow they are pushing, what’s on the side of the road (front plows do a lot of damage to fences and structures close to the edge of the road) and the fact that they can put a lot more “down pressure” using the underbody plow (rather than the front plow) when stripping ice off the road. “High blading” may also occur when a truck is in need of repair or the plow blades have worn out. In some instances, a plow blade may be up when the truck is applying abrasives or chemicals, however most trucks these days are set up to release these materials behind the attached plows.
Why aren’t the roads “plowed to black” during the winter?
Before, during and after winter storm events, maintenance contractors are out in full force doing everything they can to keep BC highways clear and open. If necessary, contractors will be in 24/7 mode and hire additional private trucks and equip them with plows and sanders to tackle the conditions. It is important to remind travellers that winter on BC mountain passes is a powerful beast, and snow accumulation can happen rapidly, often covering highways quickly after the plows go past. Even with all those resources working to clear the roads, it isn’t realistic to expect the roads to be bare and black during a storm.
BC’s maintenance contracts require that maintenance contractors get their roads “back to black” – but that expectation varies depending on the type of road and the amount of snowfall. For example: the maximum accumulation allowed on a Class A highway (like the Trans Canada Highway) is four centimetres in one lane, up to eight centimetres in the second lane, and all other lanes up to 12 centimetres before it must be plowed.
It is imperative that drivers understand and realize they are responsible for adjusting their speeds to match the conditions as they travel, if the road condition is anything less than bare and dry.
See something that concerns you while travelling BC highways?
The fastest way to attend to the problem or raise awareness of an issue is to tell our maintenance contractor directly. All highway maintenance contractors in BC are required to keep records of public concerns and this helps during auditing process to ensure the contractor is responsive to any problems brought to their attention. Here’s a list of BC’s maintenance contractors and the ways you can connect with them to communicate your concerns.