Capilano Highways ‘not going anywhere’ 

Road maintenance company loses major contract to Mainland Contracting

Capilano Highway Services has lost about 80 per cent of its workforce since losing the contract to look after roads in the Howe Sound area.

Since the provincial government awarded the contract to another road maintenance company last month, Capilano Highway Services has gone from 100 employees down to roughly 20 staff in a matter of weeks.

"It’s a tough pill to swallow," said Steve Drummond, general manager of Capilano Highway Services.

For the past 15 years Capilano has looked after the roads and bridges in the Howe Sound area in contracts lasting three or five years each.

Then the provincial government introduced 10-year contract agreements for 26 separate road and bridge maintenance contracts throughout the province.

Three companies bid on the Howe Sound area and Mainroad Contracting, a company that currently performs highway maintenance in the Lower Mainland service area, won the bid.

According to Jeff Knight, spokesperson with the Ministry of Transportation, the bids are considered based on two major factors.

"It’s a combination of the bid price and the quality management system, which is how the maintenance contractor plans to carry out their duties," he said.

He added that the bid price accounts for about 60 per cent of the proposal. Drummond said it’s the price factor that tipped the scale for Capilano.

"We wanted to keep going but Mainroad was pretty hungry I guess," he said.

Under the deal all unionized employees at Capilano were offered positions with Mainroad. The bulk of the Capilano workforce chose to move over to the new company.

It’s been a whirlwind changeover with the Mainroad contract starting on Oct. 26, just three weeks after the company was awarded the deal.

"Because it was a quick start up, because there was only three weeks of warning after they awarded us the contract and the start up date, it’s been a bit of a rat race, let’s put it that way," said Scott Gallacher, general manager with Mainroad Howe Sound Contracting.

"But we’re getting there. We’re think we’re ready to go and so far, so good."

Gallacher said the 10-year contracts are good deals for maintenance companies.

"The good thing about a 10-year maintenance contract is that it gives us the time and the ability to plan for our long-term strategies, for equipment acquisition and for building and property acquisition in order to do the job better," said Gallacher.

"That’s the biggest plus of a 10-year contract."

There’s also a benefit for the unionized employees, according to Knight.

"The 10-year agreement has meant job security for the highway maintenance employees in a protected collective agreement in the event of a change in contractors in any service area, as we’ve had here in Howe Sound, because the employees remain with the new management structure that comes in," he said.

Despite losing the bulk of their workforce, Capilano plans to carry on with work in the area.

"We’re still around," said Drummond determinedly.

"We’re not leaving the corridor. We’re got a lot of other business in the Squamish, Whistler, Pemberton area and the North Shore so we’re not going anywhere."

They also plan to bid on contracts in other areas, including the 10-year contract for the Lower Mainland, which is currently out to tender. Mainroad holds the current contract in the Lower Mainland but it is set to expire in March. Mainroad is also bidding on the new contract. Gallacher would not comment on whether or not Mainroad would be bidding on more contracts in the province.

Capilano Highway Services has been a mainstay in road projects throughout the province, building a section of the Coquihalla Highway as well as one of the four-lane bridges between Horseshoe Bay and Lions Bay. The company has also done mining, railway work and residential development.

In the last 20 years in Whistler the company has built 30 homes in the area while maintaining the roads and bridges in the Howe Sound and clearing snow on Highway 99.

"There’s going to be a fair amount of work in the Sea to Sky corridor in the next five to 10 years so we’re not going anywhere," said Drummond.

"We’re keeping our heads up and we’re going to forge on to bigger and better things."

Gallacher agrees that it’s an exciting time to work in the Sea to Sky corridor.

"We’re looking forward to a busy time and to be a solid partner with the whole community," he said.

Mainroad will have an office in Squamish in addition to their head office in Surrey.

They have also taken over the three maintenance yards in Whistler, Squamish and Pemberton.

The Howe Sound area contract is the eighth road maintenance contract awarded by the provincial government this year. Knight said the remaining 18 contracts will be awarded over the next year as contracts expire.

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