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Highway maintenance draws complaints

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Service to be discussed at Sea to Sky safety meeting, Pemberton council meeting

A group of Pemberton residents are so appalled with the maintenance of the highway between Whistler and Pemberton they intend to petition their council next Tuesday for change.

Members of the emergency services in both Pemberton and Whistler share the residents’ concerns and also say the lack of road maintenance has impeded their work.

Pemberton Mayor Elinor Warner said she was aware of the angst in the community about the roads and confirmed she had already raised the issue with the Ministry of Highways and the company that recently won the snowplowing and maintenance contract, Mainroads Contracting.

"There’s a group doing a petition (about snowplowing in Pemberton) and they will present that to the council on the 17th and they will be the first people heard, but it is up to the council to decide what to do," Warner said.

"I have talked to the Ministry of Highways about this and they were also aware of the problem.

"I’m not sure of exactly what’s going on, there has been some talk about the trucks they’re using, but regardless I certainly have voiced my opinion for a formal resolution."

Mayor Warner said the issue would be a priority during the Sea to Sky safety meeting next Wednesday in Squamish.

"All the mayors and coroners will be there and I’m sure this (highway maintenance) will be at the top of the list."

A spokesman for the Pemberton Ambulance service said it was "lucky" that there had not been any fatal accidents after some of the recent snowstorms.

"I don’t think the roads have been maintained as well as they could be; (maintenance) has really gone down hill rapidly in the last five years," the spokesman said.

"The roads are horrible really, and it’s just lucky that it hasn’t prevented us from doing our job."

Whistler Ambulance Chief Bill MacDonald said the conditions between Pemberton and Whistler after snow had been generally "terrible" this year and his staff had experienced several delays due to conditions on the roads.

He said that highway maintenance was improving but it was certainly not as good as it was before.

Many residents in both towns are annoyed that the Ministry of Transportation awarded Mainroads a 10-year contract rather than some kind of performance-based contract until they had proven themselves in the region.

Whistler resident Kelly Lee-Richards said she would like to know how the Ministry of Transportation awarded the contract to Mainroads instead of remaining with Capilano Highway Services.

"I’ve been travelling roads up here for a long time and I’ve never seen them that bad," Lee-Richards said.

Mainroads’ manager for the Howe Sound district, Brad Gerhardt, said that many commuters between Pemberton and Whistler have been driving too fast for the conditions.

"That stretch of highway is really not a problem, our trucks have the ability to clear it but I think a lot of the drivers have been going too fast," Gerhardt said.

Gerhardt confirmed he had received several complaints but maintained that, logistically, the business had not changed.

"We’ve had more snow this year than we’ve had over the past three or four years so our first objective is to get through the winter and then see how we can make it better," he said.

"But it’s the same personnel; the same bodies and equipment, there’s no difference to what it was before.

"I think a lot of people have been out on the roads in bad conditions and sometimes they’re looking at who’s at fault so they blame the contractors and we’re new contractors so that makes it a bit easier, but, that’s the nature of the game sometimes."

Mainroads Contracting won the government snowplowing contract from Capilano in October last year despite the fact that Capilano had been doing the job for 15 years.

General Manager of Capilano Highway Services Steve Drummond admitted that Mainroads Contracting had beaten their bid for the contract by hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"I didn’t think anybody would be able to do it (snowplow) for that low price," Drummond said.

"We wanted to be real aggressive with that deal but (Capilano’s bid) was definitely no where near as cheap as they were."

Drummond said the government’s policies on price made it difficult to compete with some companies.

"The government placed 60 per cent of this deal on who had the lowest price and they came in really, really cheap."

The Ministry of Transportation’s representative in Pemberton and Whistler, Brian Lee, said he was not permitted to comment on the issue and referred Pique Newsmagazine to the Ministry’s public relations department.

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