'Not a safe situation': Bring back 24-hour snowclearing, says transportation critic
N.L. government expects to save $1.9M by reducing staffing hours at highway depots
Progressive Conservative Transportation and Works critic Barry Petten says the provincial government is compromising safety to save money, and those savings may not add up to as much as expected if it snows outside regular operating hours.
By cutting round-the-clock snowclearing in the April budget, the Newfoundland and Labrador government said it expects to save about $1.9 million annually.
Petten said plows currently operate between 4:30 a.m. and 9:30 p.m., and he is concerned about people who need to be on the road outside those hours.
"This is not a safe situation," Petten told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show.
"[If you have a situation where snow] starts falling unexpectedly 10:30 in the night, by 11:30, 12 it is still falling and they decide, 'OK we need to call people in.' Realistically you're looking at probably 1 in the morning before they … start clearing roads."
Responding to questions in the House of Assembly this week, Transportation Minister Al Hawkins insisted that snow clearing is still available in some parts of the province around the clock.
He said the provincial government had cut mandatory 24-hour clearing, but will still send out equipment when conditions warrant.
"We will have our plows on the road when it's warranted and we have 24-hour snowclearing. There's absolutely nothing different," Hawkins said.
Hawkins said snow plows were on the road early Tuesday morning.
Cost savings questioned
Petten said calling in plow operators after hours would erode the savings the Ball government expects to make.
"This is for a savings of $1.9 million. So you add in the overtime costs because every hour now from 9:30 p.m. to 4:30 a.m. will more likely be at an overtime rate, because they'll be calling people back to work or keeping people on," he said.
"So I'm wondering, is this going to be a $1.9 million cost saving? My guess is … it's going to be a lot less."
In a press release on Dec. 9, Opposition Leader Paul Davis said he has written to the minister of Transportation and Works to urge government to reinstate 24-hour snowclearing and the staffing of depots, effective immediately.
With files from the St. John's Morning Show