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Company that plows Sault-area highways fined by MTO

Wednesday, January 29, 2014   by: Kenneth Armstrong

The contractor that provides highway plowing services in the areas adjacent to Sault Ste. Marie is among three companies that have been fined by the Ministry of Transportation (MTO) so far this winter.

According to an MTO spokesperson, Transfield Services is the province’s maintenance contractor for the sections of Highway 17 from Sault Ste. Marie north to White River and east of the Sault to Highway 108.

These fines should come as no surprise to Tom Featherstone, who has been unsatisfied with what he says is a lack of plowing that he has seen in the area.

Featherstone has been sending emails since at least November 12, 2013 taking the MTO to task over apparent lack of salting on local highways.

In subsequent emails, which were sent to SooToday as well as Transfield Services and the MTO, Featherstone went on to point out what he felt was a lack of response by Transfield.

In one email Featherstone suggests that a stretch of Highway 523 appeared to him to not have been cleared for over a week.

The MTO website states that during a storm, the public can expect plowing to commence when more than 2 cm of snow or slush accumulate on the roadway and for equipment to be deployed within 30 minutes of a winter storm.

For a low-volume highway, such as Highway 523, the public can expect it to be cleared within 24 hours after a weather event.

It’s unclear if Featherstone’s concerns resulted in the fines, but the MTO had taken notice of what it called “non-conformance” by Transfield Services.

MTO spokesperson Gordan Rennie said in an email statement: “This winter has seen non-conformances to our outcome targets being imposed in all five maintenance areas leading to financial consequences being issued.”

The MTO claims to be constantly moitoring and auditing their contractors, and that fines may not necessarily be the result of public feedback.

“Our area maintenance contracts are lump sum contracts requiring our requirements and standards to be met. In addition to these annual payments, the MTO has invested an additional $9 million this winter to add an additional 55 pieces of equipment across the province to enhanced service for passing lanes and truck climbing lanes,” Rennie continues.

Featherstone also pointed out multiple police reports of accidents and fatalities on local highways.

In an Ontario Provincial Police release dated December 30, 2013, the OPP warned of weather conditions after responding to eight motor vehicle collisions on a stretch of Highway 17 east of the Sault.

These collisions were within a 5-hour time frame and Featherstone wondered if any salting had been done by Transfield.

"Would it not be reasonable to assume that there might be a common factor, such as the state of the highway? It isn't likely that all were caused by driver error," wrote Featherstone.

He went on to say: "Was Transfield spreading salt on the highway? I'm not asking if Transfield reported spreading salt on the highway, I'm asking if they actually did."

According to their own website, Transfield Services is an Australian-based company which manages more than 20,000 km of roads globally.

When reached by email Tuesday, a local Transfield Services spokesperson declined to comment about the fines.

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Zing 1/29/2014 2:01:56 PM Report

How much was the fine and how many people lost their lives?
flyhawk25 1/29/2014 2:11:18 PM Report

Ahh privatizing.Is anyone else not surprised?
habber 1/29/2014 2:12:26 PM Report

they also fined the company that plows highway 11 between north bay and new liskeard.
there have been may accidents not sure if any lives were lost
pedwards1978 1/29/2014 2:15:05 PM Report

WOW AND IT'S NOT JUST THE POOR OL' COUNTRY FOLK OUT HERE COMPLAING,,,MAYBE THERE REALLY IS A PROBLEM!!!
pedwards1978 1/29/2014 2:17:03 PM Report

JUST AN AFTER THOUGHT....OTHER THAN THE FINE IS THERE GOING TO BE SOMETHING DONE TO MAKE THE HIGHWAYS BETTER....I GUESS WE WILL SEE..
od1exx 1/29/2014 2:19:45 PM Report

Easy on the caps there chap.
muddslinger6 1/29/2014 2:28:41 PM Report

This has been and issues since transfield took over...I live in Desbarats and travel to the Soo at least once a week...the highways are effin horrible at times...I drove at night from the Soo to Desbarats in a white out last winter...normally a 45 min drive..took me a little over 2 hours...I saw one plow out and the was it...I say the MTO should take the contract back and get transfield to shove their trucks and salt up there asses...send the numbnuts back downunda
old-cat33 1/29/2014 2:29:45 PM Report

So the government gave the contract for sanding and salting our roads to a company from Australia? A country that's hotter than a hookers night gown?
willy2006 1/29/2014 2:34:18 PM Report

Google News for "mto transfield" & enjoy some interesting reading.
fullstringer 1/29/2014 2:42:25 PM Report

"Old-cat33 say's "So the government gave the contract for sanding and salting our roads to a company from Australia? A country that's hotter than a hookers night gown?"

Don't get out much do ya? Haven't drivin on the highways east of and north of the Soo much have ya?
Transfield is a joke. They are a profit driven company that has no business performing such a safety related job that effects so many. The level of service they provide is so inferior to what is required and what was the norm not so very long ago. Cut back on the amount of equipment at each patrol? Cut back on time it should take to clear the highway after a storm?
I know what I'm talking about as I used to drive plow and sander east of the Soo. It's down right criminal what the MTO is letting them get away with in terms of service.
the boss 1/29/2014 2:51:03 PM Report

horrible we desrve better for our tax dollars!!!!!!! no more transfield!!!!
D.Hasselhoff 1/29/2014 2:57:51 PM Report

I'm on 552 E and have been very impressed with the plowing since I moved out there. 17N is another story and being that when the highway gets closed from "sault ste marie" anyone that uses the searchmont highway or 556 are not affected which means they are required to meet in town obligations because the highway is blocked at the ESSO turn off. I get the junction thing but white knuckling it to work at 6am can be really dangerous. Hats off to whoever plows 552 tho. I assume it's not the same company as stated in the above article and yes, easy on the caps, chap. lol.
stormy shores 1/29/2014 2:58:52 PM Report

Although it has been a very tough winter certain highways were in fact neglected. Shame on these contractors that place bids on tenders. Too bad, so sad ... if they lost money. We as tax payers shouldn't suffer! That's what the tendering process is all about. Win some lose some. I do blame MTO for all of the problems in the north. They are the source. Remember it was all about saving money!!!! Not about making our highways and roads safe for rural residents.
snowbusman 1/29/2014 2:59:52 PM Report

I drive 140KM a day on the four lane east of the Sault, every day-5 days a week and sometimes more. The Garden River boys have been doing a very good job this winter but I can't speak for the other roads.
Nunavut 1/29/2014 3:12:28 PM Report

Sorry snobusman, but they are no better (I suspect Garden River subcontracted from Transfield)
I swear that sand must of become as valuable as gold. .....and the eight accidents on that one day were directly because of no sand or salt on that highway section where the wind brings snow across regularily(just past golf course going east) It is a well known section of potential black just like the river overpasses, they should be sanded when too cold for salt .
Heck that whole section of highway 17 east runs right past acres and acres of reserve gravel pits that in the summer could be the source for sand to stockpile for winter mix.
Javaman 1/29/2014 3:12:29 PM Report

AN MTO spokesperson stated that they have been monitoring the situation all winter long. Heads should roll at the MTO then since they knew there was a problem and waited this long to do something about it. Maybe when the conservatives are elected they will take back these contracts and do the job like they should have been all along.
Nunavut 1/29/2014 3:13:25 PM Report

edit above "potential black ICE"
Nunavut 1/29/2014 3:15:09 PM Report

I am pretty sure the Harris provincial conservatives got rid of our MTO plows and contracted it out , so they are not the answer.
KFM 1/29/2014 3:23:27 PM Report

What did the government think was going to happen when they gave these huge contracts to out of country companies. They take away work from local companies that know the area, killing jobs, and think a company from Australia is going to keep thigs up as it has been in the past. This is just another example of how out to lunch the liberals are!
RonBes 1/29/2014 3:25:05 PM Report

@ Javaman

No, the conservatives won't help with this. They were the ones that started this whole privatization of public services thing. They did it all in the name of efficiency, saying that competition will save money.

This is what we get. Substandard service, little to no cost savings (except through the fines they are assessed when they fail to do the job).

The liberals are no better. If you want to see the MTO out there actually doing the job properly (i.e. in house) again, there's only one party that will do it: the NDP.

Like it or not, that's reality.

Transfield = TransFAILed
Tash23 1/29/2014 3:32:25 PM Report

Sure the roads are not as good as when MTO did the plowing them selves. but why did they decide to contract it out?

MTO Couldnt afford to keep this contract their self. does anyone realize how much salt/sand costs ?
more then you think.

Does MTO pay our contractor enough to maintain the roads properly?

you have to look at both sides of the story.

If the Roads Suck, Drive slower and with more caution, if you want to complain GET OFF THE FRIGGEN ROADS.

easy as that.

(resident of Goulais River)
blue diamond 1/29/2014 4:06:29 PM Report

Javaman 1/29/2014 3:12:29 PM Report

"AN MTO spokesperson stated that they have been monitoring the situation all winter long."

Yes, but how can MTO monitor the highway when it is closed? If MTO can't get there because the highway is closed, MTO can't make a valid report. I assume they do a lot of guessing about the condition of the highway. So I guess this is how the operator got away with this shoddy work so long. Drive safe folks, in town is not much better some days.
ryeandcoke 1/29/2014 4:10:10 PM Report

Most places in this world DON'T even use sand!!!!! Get winter tires and proceed with caution. Then you won't have to complain so much. It isn't Transfields fault we can't drive.
irishfey 1/29/2014 4:14:08 PM Report

I live in Bruce Mines and the roads are well plowed and sanded. BUT, i have had a run in with Transfield last summer over a large tree out front and the branches hang over the hwy. and are always breaking off. They refused to trim it. I talked to a worker from Transfeild and asked how he would feel if a large branch broke off [ and it"s gonna happen ] and someone got killed.... his reply was .. it would be an act of God!!! Idiots!!!! Im glad this topic came up,, gives me a chance to tell people to be careful upon entering Bruce Mines, where the flashing light is,,those branches are going to be falling onto the hwy.! Please be alert!!!... Better yet.. contact Transfeild and complain! Thank you..
Sam C 1/29/2014 4:31:56 PM Report

Tash23 is on the right track. The MTO started contracting this work out because the government of the day demanded that the MTO reduce expenses.

Lower operator's wages only bring about so much savings. The rest of the savings is in reduced operations.

But... who sets the standards? The MTO.

Did the MTO lower the standards in order for contractors to be able to bid on the work in the first place? Maintaining the same standards with the same number of vehicles with plowing happening at the same frequency as the MTO provided would likely NOT have been possible for the price the MTO was willing to pay.

Remember, the government operation doesn't have to make a profit. A private contractor won't take on a job just to break even, so there has to be a reduction in expenses somewhere.

And, if ALL the contractors across the province are being fined for inadequate service, perhaps its not JUST the contractor's fault.

I think there's blame enough for the contractors AND the MTO AND the government itself.
habsfan 1/29/2014 4:56:57 PM Report

I live on 552e also and hwy 17 has been a nightmare all winter. The thing that gets me mad though, the MTO has a truck that drives that hwy and monitors it. You can see them parked in the yard at Pineshores rd. So if they are driving the hwy arent they at fault for not making them send the trucks out. The MTO sets the guidlines and the rules. Try enforcing them. Here's another pet peeve. The trucks always leave the yard at 7.30 am the exacxt time when all of us leave for work and drive 50kmh. Why cant they go out before all of us, like 6.30am. Because the MTO sets that also. Lsy the blame where it belongs. On the MTO
KGurl 1/29/2014 5:04:07 PM Report

See a little mention and sometimes action happens with not doing what contracted for..wow
bounder 1/29/2014 5:06:10 PM Report

MTO fined these guys should have read (FIRED)now that would have an effect.
Me Myself an I 1/29/2014 5:06:53 PM Report

Fine them all you want, they will just wait till they think they arn't being watched as much and then do that much less in work
OrlandoFlorida 1/29/2014 5:12:36 PM Report

Privatization, Excuse me; it is now referred to as Modernization by our Liberal government. This my friends is what is planned for the Ontario Lottery (OLG). Outsourcing jobs has been proven many times over that it ends up costing more money, service gets worse and the public pays the price for ill conceived government plans. Sadly under the term modernization this government will continue to whittle away at our services, and in the end the tax payers pay for their incompetence.
morris 1/29/2014 5:12:52 PM Report

Transfield has got more equipment than the MTO ever had . Whats lacking is the experiance
Kevin5069 1/29/2014 5:20:08 PM Report

privatization/modernization at work. Handing over more tax dollars to private contractors/corporations who provide less quality service. Notice there is no mention of the fine $$$'s. It just means a little less profit for them this year, but I'm sure they will make that back next contract year.
Sam C 1/29/2014 5:53:02 PM Report

morris... experience would help, but... they could have twice the equipment the MTO had, but if it's only heading out on the roads half as often there's a problem.
Tito 1/29/2014 6:01:20 PM Report

What did everyone think was going to happen when they got a company from elsewhere to do the job? They are for profits just like a company that comes from elsewhere to do our highschool, they are cheaper for a reason unfortunately locals pay the price for it.
S.Claus 1/29/2014 6:10:53 PM Report

How about FIRING the Minister of Transportation or at least ask for their resignation?
S.M.A.R.T. 1/29/2014 6:35:40 PM Report

Bottom line. This province wastes too much money on fiascos (e.g. power generation, health transportation, etc.), executive salaries and bonuses, police, teacher and other government workers' wages being too high and only getting higher, faster, and the list goes on.

The search for solutions in the form of privatization and municipal agglomerations have proven absolutely foolhardy, so what next? A government with enough guts to do what's needed to get us back on track. Good luck to us all!!!
mirmir 1/29/2014 6:37:15 PM Report

It used to be hit city limits watch out. Now its can wait to get there because its safer.
lowla 1/29/2014 7:27:44 PM Report

Over the last few years I leave my home an hour and a half before my start time at work during the winter months because I am unsure of the road conditions. During the summer it's a 45 min drive.
OrlandoFlorida 1/29/2014 7:55:34 PM Report

So they have more equipment if they don't use that equipment then it means nothing. Every sand truck or plow they DON'T put on the road is pure profit to them. But for the taxpayer who gets stuck out on the highway it might mean life or death
northernmale 1/29/2014 8:47:21 PM Report

I think if you look at what they use and what the MTO used there is a big difference, a lot of the trucks I see them using do not even look like they belong on the road. And with all the road closings, how can they keep up.Hard to plow a road that is closed. Also after it does open how many passes do they have to make to get it back up and safe. Maybe what they need is zonar systems in there trucks that can be tracked all the time. Maybe even putting one in the patrol truck might even be better.These don't lie they no when you punch in and when the trucks are moving or sitting.
soowat 1/29/2014 9:34:28 PM Report

Even Davey can't hold his nose long enough for the job these clowns are doing
mallet 1/29/2014 9:35:10 PM Report

Sam C

I agree that giving the contract to a company from A. another country and B. not making sure they knew what they were up against were the silliest mistakes the MTO has made for a while. However as with any government agency the MTO has a budget to work with controlled by the government. The other roads in the Goulais area are service by the Municipal Road Boards and they budget how much will be required for the winter season generally around the 15/18 thousand dollar range, however this year we shall all go over budget for the season. Luckly there was no surface dressing done last year so we ( most of us) have funds available to pay for doing what is necessary, to keep the municipal roads in fairly good shape.. As for the highways, I guess I have been lucky that the trips to town have been on pretty much blacktop. One thing though I have noticed the lack of salt on the roads, at one time they could be described as "whitetop" from the salt used, maybe enviromental considerations have come into play as well??
Wisenheimer 1/29/2014 9:44:16 PM Report

It's Mike Harris's fault .. or failing that George Bush.
Bobbi1969 1/29/2014 10:21:42 PM Report

If the public would like to be pro active in improving the hwy maintenance, there are 2 ways of going about it. The first would be to acquire from the MTO the plowing standards for the HWYs in your area. This way when the contractor is not meeting those standards you can immediately make a complaint to the contractor and the MTO utilizing observations of snow - amount time and date. The second way would be to initiate a petition to the Provincial government (MTO) requesting that the standard for HWY maintenance be changed to bring about safer driving conditions. As an after thought calling your MPP every single time will get them to notice.. (they dont like these calls). You have to remember.... THE GOVERNMENT works for you..... If you want voices to be hear... speak up... stand up... because if you dont ... things will not change..
bugalugs 1/30/2014 4:25:42 AM Report

The only way to improve it is as Bobbi above mentioned...call and notify, harass your MPP, MTO. Complaining elsewhere will have no results. True it has been a harsh winter but that doesn't mean we should settle for less than or unsafe driving conditions. There will always be people that drive too fast and end up in the ditch, but there is no excuse when multiple accidents and deaths occur at the same locations because a road has not been salted or sanded. MTO or government sold out so they could place the blame elsewhere but they are setting the rules and standards, paying the contractors and should be demanding that the road conditions are adequate, one life lost is too many! Take your time out there and slow down it makes a difference.
crashed13 1/30/2014 10:24:45 AM Report

The fines are probably still cheaper then sending the plows and sanders out over all.
Just the cost of doing business for them.
Kat1616 1/30/2014 1:06:20 PM Report

They are complaining about the highway roads being bad, what about the roads in sault ste marie that aren't kept as good as they could be. look at how many accidents that have happened in the city. why not get something done about their streets, main roads, side roads, etc. as well. roads are never kept clean, and I also drive too and from work, I actually find the highway 17b in better shape then city streets.
Louis 1/30/2014 5:23:04 PM Report

Have been travelling Hwy 17N all my life, since transfield has taken over, it is the FIRST time I have ever seen a mound of snow left in the middle of the highway for miles, the banks have NOT been pushed back enough, trying to get out of anywhere in Heyden is a nightmare. The problem is lack of experience and training. I'm wondering where the snowplow operators are, I would be interested in hearing their view of the issue?? Yes there has been a lot of snow this year, and I happen to believe that plowing is a very dangerous job and have much respect to those trying to keep us safe. But, who is training these people??
deerhunter 2/9/2014 8:48:35 PM Report

what do we here know about kangaroo"s ?????????????
fost 2/9/2014 8:56:23 PM Report

A friend retired right after the Government dismantled snow plowing in the North and predicted exactly this scenario, I laughed at him, I mentioned that this is not how my Elected Government would treat it's tax paying citizens, Boy was I wrong and need to apologize to this man.
He even said that the contractors where lifting their plows and leaving a layer of snow so they could charge more.
I'm not on the Hwy's, thank God.
How much more do we have to put up with this Government, are we paying attention, please take time to vote, make this a priority that we will not tolerate.
Energy, roads,what's next.
Time for a serious change.
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