Firm plowing Highways 401, 138 loses government contract in Ottawa Valley

In this February 2015 file photo, Cornwall firefighters stand beside a SUV that rolled over in the ditch in the eastbound lanes of Highway 401. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston, File)

TORONTO – The provincial government announced Tuesday is has “mutually agreed” to end one of its contracts with its winter highway maintenance contractor after this winter.

But it looks like that same firm will still be rolling plows and salters down Highway 401 and Highway 138 until 2025 at the latest.

The agreement between the MTO and High Road Maintenance of Cruickshank Construction for the Ottawa Valley area will end Sept. 15, 2016. The province said the contractor will continue to provide all maintenance services uninterrupted up until that date.

The affected contract covers the Highway 17/417 corridor from Deep River to the Ottawa Valley, Prescott-Russell and the northern portion of Stormont-Dundas-Glengarry.

“They’ve (the province) finally come to grips that they’ve had some problems with the contract and had to re-tender,” MPP Jim McDonell told Cornwall Newswatch.

But a separate contract, covering Highway 401 from Napanee to Quebec, Highway 416 and Highway 138, with the same firm (High Road Maintenance), is still in force until its expiry on April 30, 2025, according to Ministry of Transportation spokeswoman Rebecca Veaudry.

McDonnell found it surprising the contract was split into a northern and southern section, believing the original 10 year contract was for the region of Eastern Ontario.

“Somehow they’ve taking a contract and really cut it in two,” McDonell said.

SD&G experienced a treacherous winter on the roads during the 2014-15 season, which included a crash on Highway 401 where two people died in February 2015 near Boundary Road, east of Cornwall.

In neighbouring Leeds-Grenville, MPP Steve Clark is worried and frustrated. “I’m not surprised that the government continues to scramble with this file,” he said.

Clark was responsible for calling on the attorney general to investigate and Bonnie Lysyk delivered a scathing report in the spring about the quality of winter road maintenance since the government started contracting out in 2009.

MPP McDonell said the government is taking the report to heart partly because they had no choice. “It was embarrassing for them,” McDonell said.

MPP Clark believes the government’s priorities are misplaced. “The contracts put cost savings for the government ahead of safety for the motorists and I think their responsibility falls right at the feet of the succession of Liberal cabinet ministers that have had the transportation file since 2009, including Premier (Kathleen) Wynne,” Clark said.

“They all have this pox on their house because they’ve turned their back on public safety trying to save a few bucks,” he said.

“We continue to talk with all of our contractors and continue to negotiate contract changes where improvements can be made,” the ministry said in an emailed statement to CNW, “The Ministry also remains open to discussions about the orderly exit from an existing contract based on what is best for the province, the travelling public and for the contractor.”

“To me that’s not a good enough answer,” Clark said, “The answer they should be giving you (the media) and giving me and giving the public is that they’ve strengthened the contracts by putting safety first rather than cost savings. That they’ve actually increased equipment that’s on the road. That there’s a more efficient response when snowfall occurs and that they’ve increased the standard.”

Clark believes the MTO is just shuffling around contracts to “appease certain municipalities and certain politicians.”

“Their mandate should be public safety. That’s where they should be.”

The provincial government will be putting the Ottawa corridor snowplowing and salting contract out to market later this week with the goal of having a new firm in place for the winter of 2016-2017.

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