Nfld. & Labrador

'Playing Russian roulette': Lack of highway snowclearing makes commuting dangerous

Commuters in central Newfoundland say the highways aren't properly cleared of snow, and it's making for dangerous driving.

Man who rolled his vehicle after Monday's snowfall wants 24-hour snow clearing back

One commuter who rolled his vehicle in slippery road conditions this week says government should bring back 24-hour snowclearing on the highways. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

Commuters in central Newfoundland say their drives are becoming more dangerous, and a government policy change is to blame.

On Tuesday morning, RCMP say they responded to four accidents between Bishop's Falls and Grand Falls-Windsor after a Monday night snowfall, which a police spokesperson called an unusual number.

Russell Stockley, a teacher from Gambo who commutes to Grand Falls-Windsor daily, was one of the drivers involved in a crash.

Stockley said when he tried to drive to work early Tuesday morning the Trans-Canada Highway was so snow-covered he was forced to turn back.

"I decided to turn back because at 6:30 there wasn't even a plow on the road at that point. I said, there's no way. This is not even worth a day's pay to try and venture through this," he said.

You can't be playing jeopardy with lives.- Russell Stockley

He made a second attempt about four hours later, and found conditions were still poor, slushy and slippery, with only one lane plowed.

"I was going about 90 km/h, travelling in treads from other vehicles. My car hit something and skewed off. I lost complete control of her and rolled her once out into the divided highway," Stockley told CBC's Central Morning Show.

"I was very fortunate because if the divided highway wasn't there, I'd have rolled her out into traffic on the other side."

Budget cuts to blame

Stockley said the poor conditions are made worse by the provincial government's decision in the spring budget to cut back the hours of plow operation in some areas.

The TCH between Gander and Grand Falls-Windsor had been included in the province's 24-hour snow clearing program since it began in 2009.

Russell Stockley feels lucky he wasn't badly hurt when his car rolled over on a snow-covered highway this week. (Submitted by Russell Stockley)

In last spring's budget, the Liberal government cut that program in order to save $1.9 million, even though an internal evaluation of the program determined it improved road conditions and driver safety, and recommended it be continued for the long-term.

Plows are now off the road between 10 p.m. and 4:30 a.m., unless there's significant snowfall.

Stockley said he feels fortunate to have sustained only a single cut in his crash, but he knows it could have been much worse.

'We need 24-hour snowclearing'

"My message to government is, these are people's lives you're playing Russian roulette with here," he said.

"You can't be playing jeopardy with lives. I understand I'm making the conscious decision to drive in the morning, but my tax dollars are going toward snow clearing, or I thought they were. We need 24-hour snow clearing."

A spokesperson for Transportation and Works said in an email to CBC the approach from government is "based on the best allocation of resources."

"If weather conditions warrant, snow and ice removal occurs 24 hours a day, seven days a week," said the spokesperson via email.

Stockley and other commuters say the weather has warranted full-time road clearing, but it's not happening.