Ontario Contracts Out Winter Highway Maintenance; Safety Deteriorated

Update:

see source

Ontario’s Queen’s Park. The Auditor was very critical of the Provincial government’s policies regarding highway safety in the winter and the fact, that since this service was contracted out, the average time to clear the snow from a highway went from about 2 in 2009-2010 to over 4 hours in 2013-2014, leaving the conditions of Ontario’s highways unsafe for drivers. This fact also leaves the Province exposed to unnecessary liability.
Ontario’s Queen’s Park. The Auditor was very critical of the Provincial government’s policies regarding highway safety in the winter and the fact, that since this service was contracted out, the average time to clear the snow from a highway went from about 2 in 2009-2010 to over 4 hours in 2013-2014, leaving the conditions of Ontario’s highways unsafe for drivers. This fact also leaves the Province exposed to unnecessary liability.

Bonnie Lysyk, Ontario’s Auditor General released her special 43-page report today.

The government claims to have 958 Plow Blades/697 Salt/Sand Hoppers at its' disposal to clear roads after snow has fallen.
The government claims to have 958 Plow Blades/697 Salt/Sand Hoppers at its’ disposal to clear roads after snow has fallen.

Her report (entitled Winter Highway Maintenance) reviews the Ontario government’s decision to contract out highway services to the private sector beginning in the year 2009.

In 2009/10, the most traveled highways in the province were cleared to achieve bare pavement, on average, in 2.1 hours after the end of a storm; this increased to an average of 4.7 hours after the end of a storm in the winter of 2013/14. Further, six of 20 contract areas did not even meet the province’s standard of clearing the most traveled highways within eight hours 90% of the time (a generous standard when compared to other jurisdictions).

The Report noted that the province itself did winter maintenance until the 1980s, when it began to privatize the work. However, the Ministry of Transportation continued to provide direction to the private-sector contractors doing the work.

In 2009, a significant change was made in the method of contracting for winter highway maintenance work when the province moved to “performance-based” contracts. These contracts gave contractors full autonomy in determining how they would get the work done. The province primarily chose contractors on the basis of the lowest price bid (versus selecting a contractor based on cost and ability to provide the expected level of services).

In response to the “Winter Highway Maintenance” report, the Provincial government released the following:

Did you know? There is more winter maintenance equipment used in Northern Ontario now than there was in 2012/13. Passing lanes and truck climbing lanes are cleared more frequently than before.

Did you know? For next winter, the ministry will be working with contractors to improve winter maintenance in 2015/16 by increasing the use of anti-icing liquids and by making salting and plowing operations more efficient on Ontario’s highways.

Did you know? The ministry added 50 additional pieces of winter maintenance equipment in southern Ontario to clear freeway ramps and shoulders more quickly.
Contract Evolution Timeline

The ministry has used contractors to perform winter maintenance for over 15 years. In the 1980s, about 50 per cent of winter maintenance work was performed by contractors. Beginning in 1996, the ministry began shifting all highway maintenance work, including winter maintenance, to the private sector.

By July 2000, all the maintenance work was delivered by contractors. In about 40 per cent of Ontario, a Managed Outsourcing contract type was used, where ministry staff patrolled highways and directed several different contractors to perform work using ministry-specified methods. In the other areas, about 60 per cent of Ontario, an Area Maintenance contract-type was used where one contractor was responsible for patrolling highways and directing their staff to perform work using ministry-specified methods to meet contract requirements.

In 2009, the ministry began the shift to a performance-based contract model where the contractor decides how best to achieve the results the ministry requires. For example, contractors can choose to use plows or combination units with tow-plows to achieve the bare pavement requirements of the contract. Previously, the ministry measured the contractor’s compliance with ministry-specified methods, now, the ministry measures and oversees the results the contractor delivers.

By July 2000, all the winter maintenance work on Ontario Highways was delivered by contractors.
By July 2000, all the winter maintenance work on Ontario Highways was delivered by contractors.

Area Maintenance Contractors

The Ministry of Transportation has 20 contracts in place to provide winter maintenance services. Five different contractors perform the winter maintenance work. The Rt. Hon. Herb Gray Parkway in Windsor is maintained by a 6th contractor.

To report a comment regarding winter maintenance on Ontario provincial highways, you can contact the ministry by email: [email protected] or directly dial 1-844-507-1427 and leave a detailed message.

Our service commitment is to achieve our bare pavement standard 90% of the time, each winter, across the province. This target has been achieved since the service commitment was implemented in 2003. By next year, we’ll report the results by contract area.

How We Measure Performance

MTO has a Provincial performance target to meet the bare pavement standard 90 per cent of the time, each winter across the Province. The standard timeframe to restore bare pavement varies depending on winter traffic volume and highway type. Some highways with low traffic remain snow packed for most of the winter.
The timeframe for each class of highway is:
Highway Class Bare Pavement Standard
1 Bare pavement within eight hours of the end of a winter storm, e.g Highway 401, Queen Elizabeth Way, Highway 11 four-lane sections
2 Bare pavement within 16 hours of the end of a winter storm, e.g. Highway 17, Trans-Canada Highway in Ontario
3 Bare pavement within 24 hours of the end of a winter storm, e.g. Highway 35
4 Centre bare pavement within 24 hours of the end of a winter storm; fully bare pavement when conditions permit, e.g. Highway 516. Centre bare means a 2.5m strip in the middle of the road.
5 Snow packed driving surface within 24 hours of the end of a winter storm. Excess snow is plowed off and sand is applied where required to improve friction.

A severe or long-term storm event may delay restoration to normal conditions, even with the best efforts of highway crews. Rapid drops to very cold temperatures or long periods of very cold temperatures can delay the restoration of bare pavement.

MTO’s Provincial performance target is to meet the bare pavement standard 90 per cent of the time. Results are publicly reported annually. By next year, we’ll report the results by contract area.
Winter Season
2013-2014 Performance Target 90%,Actual Achievement 92%
2012-2013 Performance Target 90%,Actual Achievement 95%
2011-2012 Performance Target 90%,Actual Achievement 96%
2010-2011 Performance Target 90%,Actual Achievement 94%
2009-2010 Performance Target 90%,Actual Achievement 96%
2008-2009 Performance Target 90%,Actual Achievement 91%
2007-2008 Performance Target 90%,Actual Achievement 95%
2006-2007 Performance Target 90%,Actual Achievement 96%
2005-2006 Performance Target 90%,Actual Achievement 96%
2004-2005 Performance Target 90%,Actual Achievement 93%

For ten (10) years, the government’s performance target for the winter maintenance work that it has contracted out to private companies has been at 90% and on average, contractors achieve 94% of the 90% target. Perhaps if the government raised the target, motorists travelling on winter roads would be safer.

Response to Auditor General’s Report on Winter Highway Maintenance

On April 29, the Auditor General released her report on Winter Maintenance. Read about how the ministry is already taking action on the recommendations.

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