Drivers snowed by winter highway conditions
January 30, 2013
HUNTSVILLE – Muskokans have been slipping and sliding around area highways and it seems the weather is to blame.
“In the last two weeks, not a day has gone by when I haven’t received some kind of a comment on the condition of the highways in Muskoka and Parry Sound,” said Huntsville coun. Brian Thompson, who also sits on the District of Muskoka engineering and public works committee. “I’ve had people saying they have lived here for 40 years and never seen the highways as bad. I heard it twice today in the drug store.”
Thompson broached the subject near the end of a Huntsville council meeting on Jan. 28.
He noted that the complaints have been aimed at the condition of area highways, not municipal or district roads.
The brunt of the complaints were lodged last week when a cold snap plunged the region into temperatures below -30 C for days.
“The only excuse that I think is probably legitimate for the condition of the highways in the last while is the temperatures and weather conditions that we’ve had,” said Thompson. “Last week, the temperature did drop to -35 C and it gets very hard to de-ice the road when the temperature is at that level.”
Research has shown that straight salt brine solutions freeze at about -10 C.
The District of Muskoka uses salt brine with a cornstarch additive, which is supposed to have a freeze point of about -60 C.
But Thompson said the chilly temperature lasted about a week, so they cannot be blamed for the poor conditions residents were reporting before and after the deep freeze.
“I haven’t seen bare pavement on Highway 11 for a month or more,” said Thompson. “There is no reason for that.”
The Ministry of Transportation has had a bare pavement policy on its highways.
Gordan Rennie, communications co-ordinator for the ministry, said highway maintenance standards have not changed and the new maintenance contractor in the Muskoka region, Carillion Canada, is required to meet those same historic standards.
“We closely monitor our contractor’s performance before, during and after a storm to make sure standards are met on all contracts,” Rennie said in an email to this paper.
He said weather events in the region have prevented bare pavement conditions on the highways.
“The snowfall on the weekend of Jan. 19, followed by the significant drop in temperature, resulted in salt being ineffective in removing the snowpack,” he said. “However, our contractor was sanding to maintain the safe condition of the highways. Our contractor worked diligently to regain bare pavement by Jan. 27 as milder temperatures returned.”
The new contractor is using tow plows to maintain the highways, said Rennie.
One plow can simultaneously clear two lanes in one pass. While previous contractors staggered two separate trucks to clear two lanes at once, the tow plows use a side wing that swings out beside the truck to clear the adjacent lane, he said.
“It is the safest and most efficient method of snow removal on multi-lane highways,” he noted.
Along with the plows, the contractor also uses salt, sand and liquid de-icers based on weather conditions.
The ministry encourages drivers to stay alert, slow down and stay in control for safe winter driving.
“Drive according to highway and weather conditions,” said Rennie. “Don’t take chances if the weather is bad. Allow yourself extra time for travel or wait until conditions improve.”
Huntsville OPP Detachment Const. Lynda Cranney said the detachment responded to 40 motor vehicle collisions and about 10 calls for vehicle assistance when the temperatures dipped between Jan. 19 and 24.
Most of the motor vehicle collisions were a result of driver error related to weather conditions, while some of the calls for assistance were from truck drivers who got stuck trying to get up a slippery highway hill, she said.
“People aren’t used to the changing road conditions and aren’t being cautious,” said Cranney. “As conditions change, drivers need to change their driving habits.”
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