Following multiple collisions involving commercial vehicles in the first two months of 2023, local officials in the North Thompson are calling upon the provincial government to collaborate in finding ways to improve safety along the Highway 5 corridor from Kamloops to Alberta.
The stretch of highway has become a dangerous area in the Thompson-Nicola region, including two fatal crashes involving commercial transport trucks on Feb. 2 and 9.
A triple fatality just outside of Clearwater March 1 added even more urgency to the already mounting concern.
Clearwater RCMP detachment commander Sgt. Grant Simpson told Black Press Media that there have been 14 collisions between Feb. 1 to 20 along Hwy. 5 north.
“In our most recent count, 73 per cent of our work in the last quarter was traffic related. That’s a huge increase from the previous quarter which was down around the 50-to-60-per-cent mark,”
While the increase in traffic violations are not just reflective of collisions but more drivers reporting infractions, Simpson noted that many new drivers are unfamiliar with driving mountainous highways.
According to B.C.’s ministry of transportation, which oversees the CVSE, there were 27 driving infraction tickets and 54 speeding tickets issued along the highway during the long weekend of Feb. 18 to 20, totalling $13,733.
Blackpool Fire Chief Mike Savage said an increase in avalanche control and construction near Golden is also having an impact in the amount of truck traffic being seen along the Highway 5 north corridor as drivers are facing pressure to meet delivery deadlines.
“There are a lot of people taking unnecessary risks, not driving to conditions and going way too fast. It takes a toll on motorists and also on the rescue crews, as well.”
Barrier Mayor Ward Stamer and Clearwater Mayor Merlin Blackwell both would like to see an increase in safety measures, as well as enforcement with help from the province.
“We need better signage, more variable speed zones, maintained emergency detours, reflective line painting that is seen well and commercial vehicles should be equipped with dash cams,” Stamer said, stressing the importance of using a higher quality ‘alternative paint’ that is more reflective.
“We hope to work closely with the province to find solutions and implement stronger safety measures along Highway 5 because one death is one too many,” Blackwell said.
In a recent interview, MLA for Kamloops - North Thompson Peter Milobar pointed to what he called a lack of provincial resources for enforcement by the CVSE or RCMP.
“I don’t think it’s because the people on the ground aren’t wanting to provide the enforcement, I just think they don’t have enough resources to properly cover the areas they’re responsible for. That’s something that could happen fairly quickly if the government committed more resources towards that.”
Milobar’s concerns have been addressed in recent weeks, with CVSE providing more resources to the Highway 5 corridor, Simpson confirmed.
A statement from the transportation ministry to Black Press Media stated that safety is a top priority and the recent collisions on the highway between Kamloops and Barriere are concerning. The ministry said it carefully considers any recommendations that result from RCMP investigations for how safety can be improved at a given location.
In addition, the ministry is undertaking an engineering review of Hwy. 5 to better understand safety performance and recommend any improvements.
In response to the uptick in crashes, the ministry said it has increased monitoring and auditing of the maintenance contractor’s winter maintenance operations.
Meetings with the province
On Monday, (Feb. 27), Transportation Minister Rob Flemming met with Stamer and Blackwell, as well as members of the Simpcw First Nation and Thompson Nicola Regional District.
According to Blackwell, the discussion included variable speed zones, voluntary dash cameras and Commercial Vehicle Safety Enforcement checkpoints as potential solutions.
“I want a commitment that RCMP Highway Patrol will continue to be based long term in Clearwater and that will be passed to B.C. Public Safety Minister and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth,” he said.
A new passing lane was also discussed south of Barriere, as well as improvements to the intersection at Wells Gray Inn and Hwy. 5 and a fix to ‘Pig’s Corner’ south of Darfield.
Blackwell added that another conversation will take place with Minister Fleming and the two mayors in the coming weeks.
He stated that both mayors are in agreement about keeping B.C. Highway Patrol (BCHP) located permanently at the RCMP detachment in Clearwater and they are hoping to have a meeting with Minister Farnworth regarding highway enforcement in the near future.