© Derek Montague
A vehicle gets towed out of the snow on Route 520.
So far this winter, residents of the Lake Melville area haven’t had too much snow. But in early November they got a taste of winter driving conditions after a period of heavy snowfall. The road was icy on Route 520, between Northwest River and Goose Bay, on the evening of November 9th, and at least one vehicle skidded off the road.
Northwest River resident Carolyn Michelin remembers driving on Route 520 that night. She was not impressed by the road conditions.
“My husband came down earlier and told me to be careful…he had to tow someone out of the snow,” says Michelin, who commutes to Goose Bay five days a week. “So I called dispatch. They said the road was in good condition.”
But when Michelin began driving towards Goose bay, she realized her husband was right about the road.
“There were vehicles off the road and lots of ice. It was scary,” she said.
Concerns about winter driving conditions on route 520 are nothing new for Northwest River residents. Many believe the department of transportation needs to do more to ensure the safety of drivers.
“Every winter people have concerns, especially people who commute,” says Michelin. “I don’t think they check out the road early enough. They need someone down there early…and get the plow out right away. They need the equipment on the road ASAP.”
Dianne Williams, another Northwest River resident, leaves for work in Goose bay at 6:30 am each morning. Williams says she’s often concerned for her safety because the snow on Route 520 isn’t plowed early enough.
“A lot of times, the road was plowed on one side. A lot of times I had to drive on the wrong side of the road.” Says Williams. “We called (the transportation department) all the time…we would get people who didn’t care. Most of my calls landed on deaf ears.”
Transportation Minister Paul Davis says that, in the winter, plows begin clearing Route 520 at 5:00 am. It takes one hour to clear each way, meaning the plow may not be turned around and headed back towards Goose Bay until 6:00 am. Davis says everyone at the transportation department is dedicated to doing the best job possible, and safety is always a priority. But he also says that no one can control when the snow falls, and sometimes people will need to be patience when operators are plowing the roads.
“When I know the plow is getting to the end of an area, I’ll wait for him to plow the road and then follow behind him,” says Davis.
Carolyn Michelin is concerned that road conditions might get worse each year. She’s observed that there are more bouts of mild weather during recent winters, which creates more ice and slush on the road. Michelin believes that those in charge of keeping the roads safe may have to adjust to the changing weather.
“My concern is when it gets mild,” says Michelin. “Winters aren’t what they used to be. Things are changing.”