TORONTO – The provincial government announced Tuesday is has “mutually agreed” to end one of its contracts with its winter highway maintenance contractor after this winter.
The agreement between the MTO and High Road Maintenance for the Ottawa Valley area will end Sept. 15, 2016. The province said the contractor will continue to provide all maintenance services uninterrupted up until that date.
The affected contract covers the Highway 17/417 corridor from Deep River to the Ottawa Valley, Prescott-Russell and the northern portion of Stormont-Dundas-Glengarry.
But a separate contract, covering Highway 401 from Napanee to Quebec, Highway 416 and Highway 138, with the same firm (High Road Maintenance), is still in force until its expiry on April 30, 2025, according to Ministry of Transportation spokeswoman Rebecca Veaudry.
That’s led to a lot of worry and frustration for Leeds-Grenville MPP Steve Clark. “I’m not surprised that the government continues to scramble with this file,” Clark told Brockville Newswatch.
Clark was responsible for calling on the attorney general to investigate and Bonnie Lysyk delivered a scathing report in the spring about the quality of winter road maintenance since the government started contracting out in 2009.
“The contracts put cost savings for the government ahead of safety for the motorists and I think their responsibility falls right at the feet of the succession of Liberal cabinet ministers that have had the transportation file since 2009, including Premier (Kathleen) Wynne,” Clark said.
“They all have this pox on their house because they’ve turned their back on public safety trying to save a few bucks,” he said.
A series of crashes in Leeds-Grenville happened in 2013-14, including a pileup on Highway 401 near Long Beach which sent 11 people to hospital. A tour bus flipped in that crash.
The MPP has had trouble getting a straight answer from MTO. After missing an MTO briefing call, Clark said he tried repeatedly to meet with Ministry of Transportation officials but the agency said they were not available.
Clark was asked whether the government has misplaced its priorities by dealing with a northern route instead of dealing first with a contract for Canada’s busiest highway – Highway 401. “I just question their commitment to communicating to MPP’s and to the public that public safety isn’t at risk. I find it strange that they would sever a contract and not communicate to all of the MPPs that have been asking for improved winter road maintenance.”
“We continue to talk with all of our contractors and continue to negotiate contract changes where improvements can be made,” the ministry said in an emailed statement to BNW, “The Ministry also remains open to discussions about the orderly exit from an existing contract based on what is best for the province, the travelling public and for the contractor.”
“To me that’s not a good enough answer,” Clark said, “The answer they should be giving you (the media) and giving me and giving the public is that they’ve strengthened the contracts by putting safety first rather than cost savings. That they’ve actually increased equipment that’s on the road. That there’s a more efficient response when snowfall occurs and that they’ve increased the standard.”
Clark believes the MTO is just shuffling around contracts to “appease certain municipalities and certain politicians.”
“Their mandate should be public safety. That’s where they should be.”
The provincial government will be putting the Ottawa corridor snowplowing and salting contract out to market later this week with the goal of having a new firm in place for the winter of 2016-2017.