Nfld. & Labrador

Snowclearing cuts pose 'serious risk' to drivers, after years of neglect: NAPE

The union that represents snowclearing crews says problems on the highway will only get worse if regular maintenance isn't done.

Union claims plow operators working overtime are burnt out, wants 24-hour service reinstated

A shot of the Outer Ring Road from Jan. 2. when traffic was reduced to one snow-covered lane. (Terry Reid/Twitter)

Cutbacks to snowclearing services are putting Newfoundland and Labrador drivers at risk, according to the union that represents highway maintenance workers.

Jerry Earle, the president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Asssociation of Public and Private Employees, says it takes too long to call in extra crews after a storm.

"Snow plow operators need to be reached at home, they need to head into the depots on unsafe roads to get to work, and then they need to get the plow ready and out on the road. This not only poses health and safety concerns, but it creates a lag in response time," said Earle in a news release Wednesday.

NAPE says plow operators on a day shift are being asked to work overtime and some are getting tired. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

"We also have concerns for the snow plow operators that are being kept on from the day shift as they are on the road for extended periods of time. We are hearing that some operators are already starting to get burnt out."

Broken machinery, years of neglect

Earle said 24-hour snowclearing has been reduced to an on-call service on 13 routes, including major arteries such as Pitts Memorial Drive, the Outer Ring Road, and sections of the Trans-Canada near Clarenville, Grand Falls-Windsor, Corner Brook and Stephenville.

Acting Transportation Minister Eddie Joyce told CBC News Tuesday that extra crews can be on the job within 30 minutes, claiming "the roads are being cleared as they were prior to the budget. There has been no change."

On Wednesday he added that if a significant storm was forecast, crews would be called into the depot ahead of time.

"From my understanding, the same level of machinery is in place," he said.

However, Earle disputed Joyce's claims, saying "people of the province have seen through this falsehood." He wants 24-hour service reinstated.

He said the most recent cuts are compounded by a lack of staff in some areas, and the number of plows and machinery that have been out of commission "ìn some cases for several months."

According to Earle, there have been years of delayed maintenance and neglect, which he said have led to issues such as the recent sinkhole on the Trans-Canada near Holyrood.

"Our members simply have not been given the resources to provide the repair and maintenance work necessary to do the upkeep required — like clearing blocked culverts to allow proper drainage, for example."

Joyce said Wednesday that the damaged culvert in Holyrood had been inspected sometime between eight to 10 years ago, but was still inside its normal life expectancy.

"There are times that circumstances arise that we can't control," he said. "And that's just one of the circumstances that we couldn't control. It just failed."

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