Highway deaths spiked after Liberal maintenance cuts: AG
(Postmedia Network files)
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TORONTO -- Motorists were put at greater risk on the province’s highways because the cost-cutting Ontario Ministry of Transportation let winter road maintenance deteriorate, an auditor’s report released Wednesday concluded.
Ontario Auditor Bonnie Lysyk said the OPP have identified cases where poor road maintenance contributed to serious traffic accidents.
“It was a factor,” Lysyk said, noting about 200 lawsuits have been launched against the transportation ministry.
Preliminary data shows that there was an increase in highway deaths in 2013 involving snow, slush or ice, after years of declining numbers of fatalities thanks to anti-locking breaks, traction control, air bags and better tires.
The Ontario government began cutting the winter maintenance budget in 2009 when it moved to “performance-based” contracts with private companies, the auditor’s report says.
The price of cheaper road maintenance was less safe winter highway driving conditions, Lysyk said.
The time to clear major highways of snow and ice after a storm more than doubled over the past five years to 4.7 hours from just 2.1 hours in 2009/10.
The auditors found that private sector contractors used less equipment, salt, sand and anti-icing liquid — and patrolled roads less often — than in previous years.
“We also noted that some contractors almost eliminated the use of anti-icing liquid altogether,” Lysyk said. “In one area of the province, use of anti-icing liquid over the winter season went from an average of 3.2 million litres to 9,500 litres.”
Transportation ministry staff, including engineers, warned that the procurement process for awarding winter maintenance contracts did not ensure that the contractor had sufficient equipment to do the job, the report says.
One contractor won the bid based on the lowest offer and then provincial taxpayers had to buy additional equipment to clear the roads properly, the report says.
Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca acknowledged the failings of the contracting process but said the government is already taking steps to ensure improved winter maintenance.
The auditor’s report looks at the program in effect up to 2013-14, but an additional 105 pieces of road equipment has since been added, he said.
“I’m accepting the full responsibility for making sure that going forward this program provides the people of Ontario with the highway maintenance in all seasons that they deserve,” Del Duca said.
NDP MPP Wayne Gates insisted Ontario residents deserve an apology from the Liberal government.
The transportation ministry would have known, based on the contracts it signed, that the highways would not be properly cleared, sanded and salted, he argued.
“Because of the decisions that this government made, some people were injured or killed on Ontario highways,” Gates said.
Progressive Conservative MPP Steve Clark said the government “knowingly” put people at risk by refusing to fix a new contracting system that put cost savings ahead of safety.
The ministry gave contractors longer times to clear roads and even offered an incentive to use less materials, he said.
“As a result, we have seen the appalling deterioration of highway maintenance services,” he added. “This resulted in more dangerous roads and the Liberals knowingly allowed the safety risk to continue for five years.”
According to Lysyk’s report, the transportation ministry spent $171 million on winter highway maintenance in 2013-14, compared to $202 million in 2008-09.
The budget dropped to $166 million in 2012-13, less than was spent in 2005-06.
The OPP investigated 33,131 motor vehicle collisions in the winter of 2012-13, and 41,423 the following year on the province’s highways.
Although winter accidents often spike in November, when drivers are still getting used to winter conditions, officers dealt with an all-time high of 10,605 motor vehicle collisions in January 2014.