Sunday, July 21, 2024

Winter Road Control – Department Head Wants to “Experiment With Innovation”

Stephen Vance, Staff


Have Meaford motorists had it too good for too long when it comes to clear roads in the snowy winter months? The new head of Meaford’s roads department wants to see if some savings can be found in winter road maintenance through what he called “experimenting with innovation”.

Meaford’s treasurer, Darcy Chapman, was handed the reins of the Operations department after the termination of the former Director of Operations following a staffing review earlier this year. He told council at their December 14 meeting that the municipality has traditionally exceeded minimum maintenance standards in previous winter seasons, and he would like to operate winter road maintenance in the municipality closer to the minimum standards for up to 30-day periods to see what the impact would be.

Roads that see low traffic will likely notice the experimentation the most, but Chapman hopes that the impact on residents will be minimal, with an upside of the potential for significant cost savings.

Chapman told council that if Meaford can move their winter road management closer to established minimum maintenance standards, a significant portion of the more than $240,000 spent on salt and sand for the roads could be reduced, and overtime – which amounts to some 3,600 hours per winter – could be slashed, if not eliminated altogether. 3,600 hours Chapman noted, is nearly two full time positions.

In an effort to find efficiencies, Chapman met with all Transportation Services staff in October to discuss ways the department could meet the goals and objectives of Meaford’s recently updated Strategic Plan, and how the effectiveness and efficiency recommendations in the Operations Review could be implemented. Among the ideas put forward were:

  • Create standard operating procedures for road maintenance, sanding, salting, patrols, to be used by all operators

  • Change the weekend work scheduling in the winter by creating a second shift, which will reduce overtime

  • Implement later roll-out of winter control staff on weekends from 3:30 to 5am start

  • Cross-train a dedicated backup for each plow/sidewalk/parking lot route

  • Dedicate maintenance staff (or contract with local garage) to reduce the needs of operators doing vehicle/equipment maintenance

  • Standardize overtime by eliminating double overtime

  • Institute winter holidays for all Full Time operators

In his report to council, Chapman said that Transportation Services will be undertaking some “30-Day Challenges”, where ideas will be tested for a period of up to 30 days.

“Even if the idea being tested is working very well, it will not go past the 30-day mark. Upon completion of the test, staff will analyze the process/project to determine potential long-term success and the positive impacts it could have by way of effectiveness, efficiency, or increased customer service. Understanding that innovation with new ideas will still require the Municipality to at least meet the Minimum Maintenance Standards as required under Ontario Regulation 239/02, the following practices (at a minimum) will be embarked upon between January 1 and April 30, 2016,” noted Chapman.

Chapman attributes Meaford’s exceeding provincially mandated minimum maintenance standards to a lack of hard data about Meaford’s network of roads. Prior to accumulating new road traffic data, the assumption was that 90 percent of Meaford’s roads fell under Class 4. As a result, the municipality has been maintaining all roads within the municipality to meet the patrolling and snow removal for Class 4 roads, however the new data shows that only 70 percent of Meaford’s roads fall under Class 4 with 30 percent of Meaford’s roads falling under Class 5 or Class 6, both of which call for a much lower standard of maintenance.

There are six levels of road classifications, with Class 1 roads allowing for the lowest amount of snowfall before plows are dispatched, and Class 5 and 6 receiving minimum maintenance standards, allowing higher snow accumulation and a longer response time for road crews. Road classifications are based on volume of traffic as well as posted speed limits.

The minimum standards for responding to snow accumulation and ice formation are shown in the tables below:


Chapman noted that while many rural roads would see a reduction in the service experienced in previous years, a high percentage of urban Meaford roads also fall under Class 5 and 6 (in Meaford Class 6 roads are maintained to the Class 5 standard), and would experience the same reduction in service during the 30-day experimentation periods.

Prior to embarking on the experiments, residents will be sent information to explain the process. A special email address will also be established for residents to send their roads-related questions and concerns.

Councillor Steven Bartley told council that finding ways to cut costs, as Meaford residents have clearly called for, will sometimes hurt.

“I’ve been repeatedly asked by my constituents to cut costs, cut costs, cut costs. You will never cut costs without having pain,” noted Bartley.

Once the 30-day experiments have been completed, staff will report back to council with their findings.

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