Shuswap residents have concerns with the maintenance of rural roads and Highway 1 this winter by the province’s contractor, AIM Roads. (AIM Roads photo)

Rural Shuswap residents unimpressed with winter road maintenance

Highways contractor also responsible for maintaining, plowing rural roads

Rural residents in the Shuswap are waiting to be impressed by the province’s new highways maintenance contractor for the region.

Elain Bow, who lives on Hendrickson Road near Balmoral, says she and others in the area have been underwhelmed with AIM Roads’ performance when it comes to winter maintenance of rural roads. On her road, she says the company had been using an undersized plow that wasn’t able to clear the snow to the degree she and other residents had seen from the previous contractor. As a result, the road was becoming increasingly narrow.

“A certain amount of that is just the conditions, but we did have a heavy snow two years ago and JPW (the former contractor) deployed a great big plow and that thing threw the snow way up and off the road, which we have the capacity to handle up here,” said Bow. “But they will not deploy that machine and, as a result, we’re coming into a situation where I’m afraid there’s going to be an accident on our road.”

Read more: Many North Okanagan roads remain an ice rink

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Read more: Roads contractor waits for snow removal equipment as winter looms

After making calls to AIM Roads, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI), ICBC and the RCMP, Bow said AIM Roads plowed her road again on Sunday, Jan. 12, and were able to make it “marginally wider.”

“I think that AIM got the message from the one neighbour… who has contacted them daily for the last two weeks and finally lost his temper Saturday on the phone with them,” said Bow.

When asked about service to rural roads, AIM Road operations manager for the Shuswap, Gabriel Nava, said every road maintained by the company is done in less than 48 hours after a storm has ended. Initial focus is on Class A (high volume traffic, more than 5,000 vehicle daily traffic count), Class B (trunk and main routes, 1,000 daily traffic count) and Class C roads (school bus, industrial routes), as well as some Class D roads (other regularly maintained winter routes) with more hills and corners.

“Then we are hitting all the little roads we can get to,” said Nava. “We ensure all the school bus routes are open so kids can make it to school.”

Even Highway 1 has been a concern for Malakwa resident Melissa Fallis, who commutes daily to Salmon Arm.

“In previous years, there have been days here and there where you would white knuckle it, slow right down and pray for the best, but this year that has been happening a lot more frequently and for much longer in duration,” said Fallis, noting Highway 1 has gone from washboard conditions on Dec. 31 to sections of sheer ice.

While she understands road crews have been working hard, and has seen posts by AIM Roads asking for patience, Fallis says she hasn’t felt safe at all driving Highway 1 this winter.

“I don’t mind adjusting for these conditions in a storm and to make it from point A to point B,” said Fallis. “However, when the conditions don’t improve over several days and several calls into the call centre – your fear and frustration levels rise. I have three daughters at home and all I want is to make it there and back – without wondering if I am going to see them again. It is a nauseating feeling…”

Fallis says her top five worst spots on Highway 1 include: the hill by the Canoe golf course; the s-curve near the Canoe Forest Products mill; the stretch from the last exit to Oxbow Frontage Road to the Perry River Bridge; and in front of the Husky/Esso station in Sicamous.

The Columbia Shuswap Regional District (CSRD) reports having received plenty of calls regarding winter road maintenance. However, the CSRD is not responsible for the maintenance or plowing of roads, and has provided a list of numbers to call for residents of the regional district. In Service Area 13, Okanagan-Shuswap (Electoral Areas C and D, and the majority of Areas E and F), concerns can be directed to AIM Roads Inc at 1-866-222-4204, or email aimroads@acciona.ca, or MOTI’s Vernon area office at 1-250-503-3664.

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