How Ontario's highways are cleared in winter

Find contact information for contractors responsible for clearing Ontario highways in the winter and specialized materials, equipment and technology used.

Drive safely this winter

  • Check out Ontario 511, a pre-trip planning tool that lets drivers know about events that may impact their travel on provincial highways.  It can be used to view road conditions on 549 highway cameras or as reported by our field staff, forecasted driving conditions which display how weather may impact driving, or weather forecasts and radar from Environment Canada.
  • Ontario 511 also offers Track My Plow which  allows you to plan ahead and see where along your route you might come across a snowplow or salt truck, and  which part of your route has already been cleared.
  • Register with Ontario 511 and create route notifications to receive texts or emails about traffic events and slowdowns along your regular routes.
  • Check weather and road conditions, register for updates about road closures, and Track My Plow to track the progress of snowplows and winter maintenance vehicles at Ontario.ca/511.
  • Find general information on how to get ready for winter safe driving including winter tires, driving in winter weather and tips for commercial drivers.
  • Get general winter safe driving shareable resources.

Contractors responsible for clearing Ontario highways in the winter

The Ministry of Transportation has 22 contracts in place to provide winter maintenance services.

Southern Ontario Maintenance Contractors

Southern Ontario Maintenance Contract Areas Map - (PDF - 2.22 MB)

Contract Area Contractor Name Telephone
Bancroft Emcon Services Inc. 1-877-979-0998
Carleton Place Ministry of Transportation 1-888-362-1770
Chatham Emcon Services Inc. 1-866-259-8932
Durham Integrated Maintenance and Operations Services (IMOS) 1-877-513-4667
Hamilton Integrated Maintenance and Operations Services (IMOS) 1-877-513-4667
Huntsville Fowler Construction Company Ltd. 1-866-527-8216
Kingston East C-Highway Maintenance Contracting Inc. 1-866-685-2770
Kingston West Emcon Services Inc. 1-877-979-0998
London Emcon Services Inc. 1-855-557-8478
Niagara Integrated Maintenance and Operations Services (IMOS) 1-877-513-4667
Ottawa Ferrovial Services 1-888-554-5344
Owen Sound Integrated Maintenance and Operations Services (IMOS) 1-888-222-2640
Peel/Halton Emcon Services Inc. 1-877-905-7770
Simcoe Emcon Services Inc. 1-866-618-0825
Toronto/York Integrated Maintenance and Operations Services (IMOS) 1-877-513-4667
Rt. Hon. Herb Gray Parkway Windsor Essex Mobility Group (WEMG) 1-844-570-9999
Express Toll Route 407 407 ETR 1-888-407-0407
Hwy 407 East Extension, Hwy 412 407 East Development Group (407 EDG) 1-855-463-3109

Northern Ontario Maintenance Contractors

Northern Ontario Maintenance Contract Areas Map - (PDF - 620 KB)

Contract Area Contractor Name Telephone
Kenora Emcon Services Inc. 1-844-362-6615
New Liskeard/Cochrane Integrated Maintenance and Operations Services (IMOS) 1-877-236-4667
North Bay Ferrovial Services 1-866-840-2232
Sault Ste. Marie Ferrovial Services 1-855-250-7575
Sudbury Emcon Services Inc. 1-844-362-6615
Thunder Bay East Emcon Services Inc. 1-888-636-8704
Thunder Bay West Integrated Maintenance and Operations Services (IMOS) 1-855-680-0861

 

How Ontario highways are cleared in winter

When a winter storm starts, winter maintenance vehicles are active on the roads 24/7 until bare pavement is reached.

Salt spreading begins within 30 minutes after a storm starts, helping to melt snow and ice and preventing it from sticking to the highway. Salting also makes plowing more effective.

Patroller, Direct Liquid Application truck, Combo truck (can spread salt or sand), Combo truck (plowing)

Meeting our bare pavement standard for highways

After a storm, the target timeframe to restore bare pavement varies depending on winter traffic, volume and highway type. Some highways with low traffic remain snow packed for most of the winter. The Ministry of Transportation’s goal is to  achieve  the bare pavement standard  90 per cent of the time, across the province each winter.

Bare pavement standard target by highway class:

Highway class

Examples

Southern Ontario
(vehicles per day)
Northern Ontario
(vehicles per day)

Bare Pavement Standard

Freeway/Urban Highway

(Class 1)

Highway 401 Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW) Highway 11 four-lane sections

More than 10,000 More than 10,000

Bare pavement within eight hours of the end of a winter storm.

Major Highway

(Class 2)

Highway 17, Trans-Canada Highway in Ontario

2,001-10,000 1,501-10,000

Bare pavement within 16 hours of the end of a winter storm.

Intermediate Highway

(Class 3)

Highway 35

1,001-2,000 801-1,500

Bare pavement within 24 hours of the end of a winter storm.

Minor Highway

(Class 4)

Highway 516

501-1,000 401-800

Centre bare pavement within 24 hours of the end of a winter storm; fully bare pavement when conditions permit. (Centre bare means a 2.5m strip in the middle of the road.)

Local Highway

(Class 5)

 Highways 502

Fewer than 500 Fewer than 400

Snow packed driving surface within 24 hours of the end of a winter storm. Excess snow is plowed off and sand is applied where required to improve friction.

 

Materials and equipment used for clearing Ontario highways in winter

There's no "one size fits all" response to winter storms. The winter maintenance equipment and materials used depends on weather conditions (temperature, precipitation type, duration and intensity, cloudiness, humidity, wind), highway conditions and traffic levels.

That's why maintenance crews continually monitor weather and highway conditions. They patrol the highways and use advanced systems for predicting and monitoring weather and highway conditions so they can prepare the right equipment and materials before a storm, adjust their activities as conditions change.

Materials

Road salt and sand. Salt is less effective below -12 degrees centigrade. Below -18 degrees centigrade, sand is used to improve traction.

Sand

Sand is used to provide traction on slippery surfaces, especially when it is too cold for salt to be effective. It may be used at higher temperatures if traction is needed immediately, particularly on hills, curves, bridges and intersections, and on snow-packed highways.

Both are spread on the highway using a truck that carries the material in a hopper. On two-lane highways salt is directed through a chute and generally placed in a narrow strip along the centre of the highway. On multi-lane highways, spinners are used to spread salt across one or more lanes at a time.

Salt

Salt is less effective at temperatures below -12° C, especially if there is no sunlight, which means bare pavement can be difficult to achieve in extremely low temperatures.

Anti-icing liquid

Anti-icing liquid can be sprayed on a highway before a storm to prevent snow and ice from forming and sticking to the highway. It can be placed along a section of highway or at specific locations prone to icing, such as bridge decks. Anti-icing liquid is only applied at specific temperatures and weather conditions.

Pre-wetted salt

Pre-wetted salt is regular road salt with anti-icing liquid applied before it is spread on the highway.

This helps the salt stick to the highway surface and helps melt ice and snow more quickly to reduce the total amount of salt needed.

Equipment

Plows

A standard snowplow truck has a blade mounted on the front and may also have a side blade or "wing". A combination truck has a spreader mounted on a standard snowplow truck and is capable of both plowing and spreading. A tow-plow is a regular plow blade mounted on a trailer and pulled by a combination truck. The trailer is moved over to the right to clear the next lane.

Snowplow trucks clearing an Ontario highway.

Technology

Road Weather Information Systems (RWS)

RWIS meteorological sensors and video camera collect and relay data to patrol rooms.

Road weather information system map view.

Liquid spray system

A liquid anti-icing spray system has a 5670 litre tank. With separate nozzle controls, up to 3 lanes at a time can be sprayed with a liquid anti-icing agent.

Liquid de-icer truck with a warning sign to stay back 100 feet.

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