Ontario saved money but made winter roads less safe, audit reveals

By David Tanner, Land Line senior editor | 5/4/2015

The Ontario government’s plan to save money on winter road maintenance has made the roads less safe for the traveling public, an audit has revealed. Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk stated in an audit released Wednesday, April 29, that deaths from accidents in which snow, slush and ice were factors have increased.

Since 2009, the Ontario Liberal government has awarded “performance based” contracts to the lowest bidder in an effort to save on maintenance costs.

That led to inferior service, Lysyk stated.

“Over the past five years, winter highway maintenance service levels have declined from the level that Ontarians have historically been used to,” Lysyk stated in a 43-page report commissioned by the Legislative Assembly’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts.

“The Ministry of Transportation has been successful in reducing and containing escalating winter maintenance costs, but the time it takes to clear highways during and after a storm, to make them as safe as possible for motorists in winter, has increased.”

Lysyk revealed how treating roads after a snow event used to take just over two hours. It now takes more than four and-a-half hours.

Truckers have noticed and have done their best to avoid driving in wintry conditions.

OOIDA Member Johanne Couture of Brockville, Ontario, who hauls liquid chemicals, says the audit only confirms what she and other truckers have experienced.

“We’re at the point now that we hear the weather report and we park it,” Couture told Land Line. “I do a lot of ‘better safe than sorry,’ and I wait until the road is cleaned up before I get going again.”

Couture says that road crews have substandard equipment or less equipment than they need in some areas.

“Over the years, we’ve seen the level of cleaning up after a snow change drastically,” she said. “We didn’t hear of 100-vehicle pileups on Highway 401 three or four years ago. It boils down to road maintenance.”

Cost savings were relative and not always consistent, Lysyk stated in the report.

“We noted in one case that the lowest bidder actually ended up costing more than the next-highest bidder because the province had to step in and pay for more equipment to clear roads properly,” Lysyk stated. “If the next-highest bidder had been procured, the area could have been serviced with more equipment at a lower cost.”

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