Police advisory group wants answers from MTO concerning Island winter road conditions

MANITOULIN—The Manitoulin Municipal Association (MMA) should request another meeting with Ministry of Transportation (MTO) and DBi officials regarding its concerns with highway road conditions on Manitoulin this winter, Staff Sergeant Kevin Webb, detachment commander of the Manitoulin Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), suggested at a meeting last week.

“On the issue of highway conditions, there has been a lot of comments in the local papers about the bad road conditions,” said Les Fields, a member of the Manitoulin Community Police Advisory Committee (CPAC) at a meeting last week. “The road conditions from the (swing) bridge to Espanola are not the same as from the bridge to South Baymouth because of the constant snow and slush on the roads. It must be, at times, a real safety concern, life threatening, to your officers as well as members of the public,” she addressed Staff Sgt. Webb.

Sgt. Webb said the MTO signed a new roads services contract with DBi this year, and that representatives of both had made a presentation to the MMA recently. “I know in talking to the MTO on the servicing of roads by their contractors that there are five grade classifications for roads, with Manitoulin roads being grade three and some being classified as a grade four road. The long and short story to this is that if plowing and sanding is not being done as much as there should be, municipalities should get letters out to the MTO on this.”

Ms. Fields said the roads have been very dangerous at times this winter, and could pose a life-threatening situation for local residents travelling them.

“If our officers see road conditions deteriorating because of a storm they call the MTO who get in touch with the contractors,” said Sgt. Webb. “And if the roads are too bad we close them. We are in constant communication with the MTO on road conditions. The bottom line is the contractors have to fill the contracts, and when you have problems with roads I would suggest you let the MTO know.”

“I know during one of the first storms we had locally, the ice and slush on the roads were a couple of inches thick, and I drive in from Whitefish and the roads got worse as I got closer to the bridge, and by the time I got on the Island the roads were getting worse. This may speak to the grade-classification the roads are given,” continued Sgt. Webb.

The MTO and DBi officials, “said at the MMA meeting that they would be servicing the roads at a better classification-grade,” Eric Russell explained.

“Everything on the Island is a grade four classification at best,” said Sgt. Webb.

“There shouldn’t be such a difference between Highway 6 on the Island and to Espanola, and we have been bombarded by people complaining about the road conditions,” said Ms. Fields.

“From M’Chigeeng to Gore Bay the roads are not good, they are pitiful, but travelling the other way from M’Chigeeng they are better,” said Brian Parker. “Our council (Billings) has indicated we are not happy with the highway road conditions and has asked the MTO to look at the whole picture of winter road maintenance on the Island.”

“We need to deliver a response from the MMA (Manitoulin Municipal Association) and all municipalities,” said Ms. Fields.

Sgt. Webb agreed, suggesting, “you might want to consider going through the MMA, inviting the MTO and DBi to update your issues and concerns.”

“We need to blame the government for hiring outside contractors,” added Betty Noble.

Ms. Fields said, “the risks to the public are so apparent. The roads are not good.”

Mr. Parker said the OPP should also be raising concerns with winter highway conditions as it poses a threat to the health and safety of all its Island officers.

“We held a town hall meeting recently with our area MPP Mike Mantha about the fact that the roads get increasingly worse from Gore Bay all the way to Meldrum Bay,” said Wayne Bailey, a Burpee-Mills councillor. “The fellows from Silver Water were stating how treacherous the roads were.”

“I’d look to the MMA to request a meeting with the ministry and the contractor to a meeting and hear the concerns and explain their side,” said Sgt. Webb.

“We could have a sign at the bridge saying ‘welcome to Manitulin Island, salt free roads in the winter’,” stated Mr. Parker.

Those at the meeting agreed the issue will be raised at a future MMA meeting to look at contacting the MTO and DBi to attend a meeting.

“The Ministry of Transportation’s focus is keeping our highways safe,” Gordan Rennie, communications coordinator with the MTO, told The Expositor in a recent story. “This includes ensuring that Ontario drivers have access to the information they need to learn about road conditions before they head out on the road with updates several times a day on line or by phone. Ensuring that winter maintenance is carried out in accordance with our standards and operational requirements will continue to be a priority.”

“DBi Services is our maintenance contractor for the Sudbury/Manitoulin area,” continued Mr. Rennie. “Our contract with DBi defines several operational requirements, which include monitoring weather and road conditions in order to respond quickly and appropriately, spreading sand or salt within 30 minutes of the arrival of a storm event, deploying plows when there is an accumulation of two centimetres of snow or slush, and continuing these operations to ensure they are meeting the requirements of their contract and our high standards for winter maintenance. If we find that an operational requirement is not met, we impose consequences and compel the contactor to review and modify their operations to ensure that requirements are met in the future.” He said the standards or methods of winter maintenance have not changed from last year to this year.

Tom Sasvari

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