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Trucker hopes for better driving conditions this winter


Dale Cockins, third from right, receives Canadian Trucker of the Year Award. Photo courtesy of the Ontario Trucking Association

By Dylan O’Hagan [1]

BELLEVILLE – Canadian truck driver of the year [2], Dale Cockins, says more has to be done about clearing snow from Ontario highways.

The road conditions last winter were not up to par for 63 year-old Cockins, who lives outside Deseronto. Cockins has been a truck driver for the past 47 years and has worked exclusively in Ontario and Quebec for the last 20. He says it was especially bad last year.

“We have Canadian winters here and all hell breaks loose, right? We saw it especially last winter on the 401, multiple pileups all over the place… Everything got cut back so drastically that it’s just terrible out here now on the highways in the winter time. They have to do something more than what they’re doing,” he said.

Carillion Canada Inc [3]. won the provincial contract in 2013 for maintenance and and snow removal for the region of Kingston West, a stretch of the 401 running from west of Kingston to Port Hope. But it was budgeted considerably less money than the company that was awarded the contract the previous year.

In 2013, Carillon Canada was given $4,929,211 to maintain the Kingston West area. It used just nine snow plows.  That same year, two of three local salt yards closed, forcing Carillion to work from one central yard in Grafton.

Cruickshank Construction held the contract the previous year and was awarded $8,733,528 for highway maintenance, including snow removal. It used 17 plows to clear that same stretch of the 401 during snowfalls.

Cockins says, these cutbacks have gone too far and now may be putting people’s lives in danger.

“We had a great system, we put the Trans-Canada highway through this country back in the 60’s and we’ve maintained that highway winter and summer, and especially in the winter time. But now things have changed because of cut backs and I don’t see where the cutbacks save anything because once you’ve got a hundred people in a pile up, you’re into millions of dollars of damages and people dead and all that. So I want better care taken for the roads in the winter time,” he said.

Concerns over highway maintenance are not new. Last year, Conservative MPP Steve Clark [4] called for the provincial auditor general to investigate the impact cutbacks have had. Conservative MPP Todd Smith [5] told QNet News last year that the revisions came after the Liberal government focused its spending elsewhere, forcing the Ministry of Transportation to make cutbacks in its spending.

Last year’s winter caused five major pileups [6] on 400-series highways across Ontario. Three of these pileups were along the 401 corridor stretching from Napanee to Cobourg in Northumberland County.

This year however, the province has answered the call for better snow removal. It’s putting more money into clearing highways this winter, including $8 million that will put 50 new pieces of snow removal equipment along highways in southern Ontario. The Kingston West Region will also see an extra 5 plows for snow removal this year, bringing the total up to 14.

The province says it’s also adding 20 inspectors to provide on-the-ground oversight of contractors during winter storms.  This includes one inspector for the Kingston West maintenance contract area.

The auditor general’s report on snow removal cutbacks has not yet been released to the public.