The Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association says climate change has made the province's highway maintenance standards outdated.

Association president Ron Nelson said changes in weather patterns have resulted in more freeze-thaw cycles than in the past, leading to more complaints about the way some area roads are cleared after bad weather.

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Ron Nelson, president of the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association. (amo.on.ca)

Guidelines for dispatching highway maintenance crews need to be changed by the province, he said.

"We'd like to see [them] out a little bit sooner, instead of waiting. You get all the transports and everything else on the roads, and they pack it down and it makes it even that much harder to get back to bare pavement."

Under current standards, high-traffic, two lane highways — like Highway 17 — are to be cleared to bare pavement, within 16 hours of the end of a snowfall.

"We had a meeting with the [Ministry of Transportation] last year about Highway 595, the highway that goes through the middle of our municipality," said Nelson, who is also mayor of O'Connor Township.

"To date, we've been pleasantly pleased. The guys in our neck of the woods have done a good job.  We get a lot of icy patches, but our road is secondary. There's no salt [and] it's just strictly sand[ed].  It's not the best but it's not the worst, so I'll give them credit for that."

‘Prepare a little better’

However, in the Rainy River and Kenora district municipalities, concerns have been voiced over how roads are being kept up.

"So NOMA, as the spokesperson for all of northwestern Ontario, sent a letter to [the MTO] back on Feb. 4, and received a reply last week ... indicating the contractors are performing their winter road maintenance to the ministry standards," Nelson said.

"They've been checking.  They have [global positioning systems] on the plows, and that allows the ministry to determine if they are being deployed as they should be. I was told if the contractor is not in compliance, there are penalties that are addressed."

But penalties are no match for Mother Nature, which Nelson said "plays havoc with everything."

He said the association is hoping that, when it comes time to renew road maintenance contracts, "the ministry can look at more stringent areas that they can improve on."

"Things have changed.  Weather has changed.   It's not like it used to be. We have to take that into consideration," Nelson said.

"If they know [weather] is coming, maybe they can prepare a little better and change the standards to get them out a little earlier, which would help."