Road maintenance in the East Kootenay region has been considered rocky by some in the past, but Mainroad East Kootenay Contracting LP will be doing its best to smooth out the pavement with a new contract.

The $16.7 million contract is geared toward having Mainroad East Kootenay Contracting LP make improvements to the quality of service for maintenance occurring in the East Kootenay region during a seven-year term after being awarded the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure contract after a competitive tender process was completed.

This new contract increases the amount spent on maintenance by $490,000 a year so Mainroad will be able to meet the expectations of people in the region, said Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Todd Stone. With Mainroad continuing as the maintenance contractor for this area, there will be a smooth transition to the new contract and the comfort that an experienced contractor with employees who are knowledgeable about the local issues will continue to keep our highway safe.

The way the money being used in the project will help to meet the expectations of the project by improving specifications to address the challenges of this area.

Weve reduced the size of the materials, the sand, to ensure there is less windshield damage and a few other things in the contract to make those improvements, said Jack Bennetto, district manager, Rocky Mountain District, Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure. The bidders bid to meet those requirements.

The goal in making these improvements aims to reduce the number of accidents that have occurred within the East Kootenay a process that dropped from nearly 200 reported car crashes in 2006 to less than 100 in 2014. However, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure believes that its latest contract with Mainroad East Kootenay Contracting LP has strict requirements that should aid in the reduction of car accidents as time moves forward.

I am pleased to see the value of the contract has been increased and the specifications improved to provide a higher level of service, said Bill Bennett, Minister of Energy and Mines as well as the MLA for Kootenay East. We have heard the publics concerns about maintenance in the region and I am confident that this new contract will enable us to build on our past experience in the region and look forward to serving the community over the new contract term.

He anticipates the changed contract may improve services but ultimately believes that drivers need to take on the responsibility as well.

We can never and should never lose sight of the fact that the people who are driving the vehicles on the highways have by far the greatest influence over whether or not there are accidents or not, said Mr. Bennett. Where we live, here in the Rocky Mountains, has unpredictable weather and it changes with different levels of elevation so we are never going to have roads that are guaranteed to be safe at certain times of the year. People still have to accept the responsibility of driving safely, which is an important statement to make in this context.

But Mainroad East Kootenay Contracting LP has refined the operations process to meet the demands of the area over winter by providing efficient new equipment such as a six tridem axle, 18 tandem axle and eight single axle plows which will be supplemented with one tow plow and anti-icing capacity and one trailer sanding unit.

We have worked closely with our employees, members of BC Government and Services Employees Union (BCGEU), on a bid that will enable us to meet the new contract standards in the East Kootenay, said Peter Ashcroft, Mainroad CEO. Were confident that this new contract will enable us to build our past experience in the region and look forward to serving the community over the new contract term.

He added the public engagement process was informative and is eager to meet the demands of the Basin.

Were delighted to continue offering our services in the area and I want to thank the ministry for providing us with support and the opportunity to, said Mr. Ashcroft.

In addition, there will be Automated Vehicle Locator System (AVLS), which uses GPS to track the plow locations and ensure efficient deployment of the fleet in all plows; maintenance yards and stockpiled materials will be moved to become more readily available to the service areas; increased use of liquid anti-icing chemicals to 250 per cent by having liquid chemical production capability and storage at five locations; and having a snow desk that can used as a single point of contact for staff around the clock this winter to deploy equipment across the service area as required.

The use of chemical application in the East Kootenay area really started in earnest a couple of winter seasons ago on a trial basis in the Elk Valley with the support of the ministry, so using that experience in the last couple of winter seasons we recognize the merit and the use of calcium-chloride mix, we are now confident that its a process that works, explained Mr. Ashcroft. We will now apply it all over the contract area with confidence. What it does through additional brining and salting methods have limitations in terms of temperatures so salt applications go down to -6 C. The chemical applications will allow us to treat and provide anti-icing down to -20 C and maybe even below in certain weather conditions so it allows us to pre-treat the roads well in advance of the weather conditions.