The challenges of rural snow removal

One-track rural road on a winter's day.

One-track rural road on a winter’s day.

While I don’t under-estimate the inconvenience caused to urban dwellers by heavy snowfalls like the one that hit us from late Sunday through to early Tuesday, by and large I think rural residents hold up well by comparison.

Media focus mainly on what’s happening with city streets — why is snow not being removed more quickly from the downtown core; when will the plows make it to the subdivisions, and so on.

Meanwhile, out in the region, people are wondering when the first truck will get to their communities. Many of these folks make the daily commute to Kamloops for work and depend on a timely reaction to snow storms to get them there.

Monday morning, many of them had to drive on unplowed roads with a foot of snow, following each other’s tire tracks and cutting a trail that looked like big cross-country ski runs.

My casual observations of what was going on in town and out of town lead me to conclude the levels of service were fairly similar, but distance creates special challenges both for rural residents and for the road maintenance contractors.

I heard from Pinantan residents — some who have had to wait until today for their road to be cleared — wondering about what takes so long.

I talked with Argo Road Maintenance general manager Harvey Nelson today, who explained the system of priorities used for snow clearing.

Argo is the contractor for the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure. It’s one of several companies that work on contract with the ministry, maintaining roads in defined areas throughout B.C.

Roads are classified based on traffic volume and type of use. Major highways are class A, while lesser highways are B. School-bus routes are C. Residential neighbourhoods are D, the last to be plowed. A fifth category, E, refers to irregular maintenance on roads with very little traffic.

Argo got a lot of calls about Hale Vinnie Road at Pinantan, for example. It’s a D road, and was cleared this morning.

“People were very understanding,” Harvey Nelson told me of the calls. People mainly wanted to know a timeline for when the plow would make it to their road, he said.

Argo’s target for getting roads cleared after a storm is 48 hours and he figured they’d be close to that.

A specific question asked in Pinantan was why a snow truck would head back down the hill toward Kamloops without putting down its blade or sanding, as one was observed doing.

Harvey wasn’t aware of that particular situation but said there could have been a mechanical problem such as a ruptured hydraulic line. Another reason might be that plow blades become worn during heavy use and have to be dealt with.

Normally, he said, drivers would be expected to plow on their way back to town. After I mentioned this on the Pinantan-Paul Lake Facebook page today, Maurice Meesey said he’d heard the truck and it had broken its chains, so maybe that was the reason.

Argo uses 22 plow trucks to cover its area. The snowfall early this week obviously stretched its resources. Up to the end of December, it was an average season, said Nelson.

The snow we’re just getting through dealing with was “one of the biggest” he’s aware of. “It was a tough slog.”

Oh, and here’s a tip regarding the 1-800 number listed for emergencies. When you call 1-800-661-2025 you get an answering service, which passes messages on to Argo staff 24 hours a day.

As Argo gets the calls, they’re put into a priority list for response.



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