Thursday, January 13, 2022

Prince Rupert councillor Barry Cunningham calls on MLA Jennifer Rice to be more pro active on calls for Highway maintenance

Prince Rupert Councillor Barry Cunningham speaking at
Monday's Council session on themes of winter road 
conditions, Mr. Cunningham expanded on his themes
this week for the CBC's Daybreak North program

The state of Highway 16 between Terrace and Prince Rupert has been the focus for much discussion this week, that as extremely dangerous conditions saw the road closed for periods of time. 

That a decision made on the basis of safety, after a number of accidents, ranging from those involving transport trucks, buses and individual cars and trucks left a trail of damaged vehicles and stranded travellers.

Yesterday, the topic made for some conversation on the CBC Radio program Daybreak North, with host Carolina de Ryk hosting Prince Rupert City councillor Barry Cunningham, asking for his thoughts on the state of the vital transportation link in and out of Prince Rupert.

Mr. Cunningham who has often spoken of the conditions of the highway during City Council sessions, recounted many of his themes from this week's Council meeting

Putting some focus on the dangerous conditions that the Ministry of Transportation created inside the city of Prince Rupert limits when it ploughed snow from McBride Street and Second Avenue up onto the city sidewalks.

But it was the condition of the Highway past the Port Edward turnoff and on to Terrace that made for the majority of his commentary, as he expressed many of the frustrations that many travellers across the region have shared through the last month.

Among his themes, Mr. Cunningham noted of how it impacts on many elements of the lives of residents of the region including those with medical needs or out of town appointments. 

The Prince Rupert Councillor also made note of his research on Highway maintenance contract awards and suggested that there may be a profit motive behind the current state of the road work.

"If these maintenance companies are doing this for a profit then we've got a problem, I really think the Department of highways or our provincial government should be looking at these contracts and either putting more money into the highway maintenance, or looking at a different way of doing it. I don't know exactly how it works, as if there's different conditions, there's more money thrown into it or what" 

Comments that perhaps make for a bit of frustrated bombast during a challenging period. 

More likely it would seem is that the contracts for the inland ares of the Northwest come with higher values owing to the scope of the territory covered; along with the extreme weather those communities face far more often than the last three or four weeks have delivered to the usually rather pleasant winter environment of the North Coast.

As part of his overview, the Councillor also called on North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice to become a louder advocate for better highway maintenance along the route.

"I think Jennifer Rice has to be a little more pro-active on this, it's just gotta change; if this is gonna be what we're going to be seeing in the future, this type of winter, then we definitely need changes in our highway maintenance and care and that.   

You know we have no control over avalanches and things like that, but the actual maintenance of the road  ... Again, You know I saw the way the city did it and our side roads and that weren't the best but at least they were passable, and they were getting out and sanding the minute it started snowing and ploughing and that to the best of their ability"

You can review Mr. Cunningham's near eight minute overview of the last few weeks of extreme weather and highway maintenance through the Daybreak North audio archive page here.

Since the North Coast MLA was the focus for some of the Councillors comments, we contacted Ms. Rice for some thoughts on the current highway situation and what efforts she may have taken to address the concerns her office has received.

Towards her reply, the MLA forwarded the following:

My office is in frequent contact with our local area manager for roads during these severe weather events. We’ve been relaying constituent concerns about conditions and seeking clarification as to what actions are being taken. 

Ministry of Transportation staff did close the Highway between Exstew and Port Edward on Jan 10th due to freezing rain. The delays were a result of an accident response and ensuring a sand pass to make sure everyone made it home safe. Our local roads manager assures me that the sand trucks were out along with a full suite of equipment as he himself was out on the highway all night. There was a subsequent closure due to an accident 42 kms East of Terrace the following day. 

We do recognize that the closures and delays significantly impact many people’s lives. However, the Ministry puts safety of the public as its highest priority and works diligently to make the Highway safe to travel. 

 I hear people’s frustration with not being able to travel the highway as we normally would in milder weather but when traveling during winter months, we urge people to plan ahead, check DriveBC and slow down when they encounter difficult conditions. 

Also, winter tire regulations are in place on most B.C. highways from the fall to the spring. Weather conditions can change very quickly in much of B.C.’s terrain – such as going from rain to snow. It’s critical that drivers do their part and adjust their speed to the conditions.

Ms. Rice also made note of the challenging environment that the contractors are facing this winter.

The recent weather system hit both Terrace and Prince Rupert quite hard over the last few weeks. Approximately 70km outside of Prince Rupert there is a service area boundary that divides the two contract areas. 

The Terrace side of the boundary is maintained by Emil Anderson and the Prince Rupert side is maintained Obrien’s Road and Bridge. From a winter maintenance perspective all maintenance contractors fall under the same quality assurance specifications across the province.

 Each service area has their own unique challenges with different microclimates, infrastructure, and volumes of traffic. The stretch between Terrace and Prince Rupert experiences multiple microclimates and resources are typically deployed based on a priority assessment.

When it comes to communication with her office, we asked the MLA if she had heard from Councillor Cunningham, or any other  City of Prince Rupert officials during this most recent period of extreme weather conditions and the impact on the highways.

In reply, she noted that the only local official that had reached out to her to discuss the issue, was the Mayor of Port Edward, Knut Bjorndal.

You can review some of the challenges on the highways of the last month from our archive page here


  1. "Weren't the best" and "getting out and sanding the minute it started snowing" are massive understatements from a seasoned city councilor.

    "Each service area has their own unique challenges with different microclimates, infrastructure, and volumes of traffic." is a toffee nosed response from our script reading MLA.

  2. Contractors such as Obrien's and EAM are determined by the province, approved by the province, and directed by the province.

    Are those approved contractors meeting their performance measure metrics laid out in their service level agreements with the province?

    If they are, I would suggest a review of those performance metrics.
    If they are not, I would suggest a review of those performance metrics.
    If performance metrics cannot be attained, the province needs to determine if they have to step in and do the work.
    Reference material

  3. While I agree that the highway is an extremely serious issue, is Barry really one to talk? Let’s talk about how embarrassing Rupert’s streets and sidewalks were for weeks! There were no sidewalks to be found anywhere. Citizens had to walk on the street. I drive past a woman walking with her walker down 2nd Avenue because the sidewalks were atrocious. So it’s kind of a pot calling the kettle black?

  4. speaking of pot calling kettle black, a bit rich for Barry to ask Jen to be more 'proactive' when his entire council career is defined by complaining about problems instead of actually doing the work to fix things

  5. I feel like people who complain about highways know little to zero about highways maintenance. These guys are out 24/7. Like to see them all quit and then see how your highway is.