Okanagan residents are aiming their ire at provincial road maintenance contractor AIM Roads following multiple vehicle collisions across the valley on Monday (Dec. 6) as up to 20 cm of snow fell in some areas.
In a statement to Black Press, the Ministry of Transportation said they found in most areas AIM did meet snow removal requirements. However, they noted that requirements were not met in West Kelowna. Slick roads led to several crashes on Westside Road, including a logging truck that lost its load.
“When a contractor does not meet the ministry’s performance expectations, the contractor is required to determine the root causes and create an action plan to ensure it does not occur again,” the ministry said.
But Okanagan residents like Laurisa Dohm say the problem goes far beyond just West Kelowna. In a letter to MLA Harwinder Sandhu and Public Safety Minister Mike Farnsworth, Dohm said that conditions on Highway 97 between Kamloops and Vernon were slick with black ice. She recounted getting stuck behind semi-trucks that couldn’t make it up hills and curves near Monte Lake.
“After waiting for 45 minutes for crews that never showed up, I eventually decided to make a u-turn and go back to Kamloops for the night — rather than continuing to take my chances sitting at the bottom of the turn, waiting for a vehicle coming down the bend to lose control on the ice and hit me,” she wrote.
Road conditions have been an issue further south as well.
Princeton Mayor Spencer Coyne says AIM has failed to meet expectations before. Coyne hopes that this time, the province and AIM will get serious about snow removal.
“Our roads in this area have been a nightmare since they took over the contract. We tried to give them a little slack because they’re a new contractor and they didn’t have all the equipment in place. Still today, they can’t keep workers and there are ongoing issues.”
Highway 3 and 97 have seen a drastic increase in traffic since flooding and mudslides closed nearly all of the routes between the Lower Mainland and the Interior. The increased traffic has also brought an increase in deadly crashes — Highway 3 and 97 recorded five fatal collisions from Nov. 26 to Dec. 3.
“We’re used to driving in snow, but people won’t travel some days because of the road conditions here,” Coyne said. “Now you’ve got all the trucks on top of it and people are concerned about even coming into town… We have concerns about bus routes — on Monday morning the routes weren’t looked after — we have a lot of concerns about safety around here.”
Coyne recently detailed his concerns to transportation minister Rob Fleming. Coyne said Fleming indicated the ministry will be looking into the issue and ensure AIM is living up to their contractual obligations.
“I want to make this clear: it’s not the employees that are the problem. The employees are members of our communities and they’re working hard to maintain them. But they’re not given enough equipment or manpower to do the job. This is an upper management issue. I don’t know how they’re going to fix it, but they have to figure it out.”
AIM Roads declined to comment on this story, deferring comments to the Ministry of Transportation.