Long-distance truckers and everyday motorists trying to make medical appointments may have an easier time this winter tooling along major Northern Ontario highways.

Ontario Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney announced on Friday her department has upped the maintenance standard for highways 11 and 17, vowing to ensure they are back to bare pavement 12 hours after a snow storm has ended.

The previous standard for the routes was 16 hours, and even longer than that on highways that are not part of the Trans-Canada Highway system.

The new 12-hour standard follows a ministry review that looked at road-maintenance performance on the two routes over the past two winters.

Though the 12-hour period is a noticeable improvement, it falls short of the eight-hour standard that applies to major provincial freeways like the 400 highway series in southern Ontario.

Marathon Mayor Rick Dumas said the 12-hour standard for the North sounds good, but “we’ll see where things are at in January.”

Ontario’s NDP has been unsuccessful in convincing the province to apply an eight-hour standard to Northern highways.

For several years, Dumas and other Northwestern Ontario municipal politicians have complained about shoddy winter road maintenance.

The tide began to turn when former Liberal transportation minister Glen Murray at least acknowledged the deficiencies, and made the unusual move of offering an apology for bad service.

Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association president Wendy Landry said Friday that while winter-road maintenance remains a hot topic, the announcement of the new bare-pavement standard “is a great step.”

In a news release, Northern Development Minister Greg Rickford (Kenora-Rainy River) said he knows “first-hand the unique challenges and conditions that drivers face across the Northwestern parts of our province, especially during the winter months.”

Most of Ontario’s highways are cleared and salted by independent contractors paid by the province.

In Friday’s news release, the province said it is taking other measures to improve winter-road maintenance, including updated snow plows and “pro-active” use of chemical agents that can melt ice.