Not only are local government officials keeping the pressure on, they’re ratcheting it up several notches.
Columbia Shuswap Regional District directors are committed to lobbying federal and provincial governments for the funding to improve the Trans-Canada Highway.
In an unusual move, directors crafted and gave unanimous support to a resolution asking the Southern Interior Local Government Association (SILGA) to lobby both governments on their behalf.
The resolution came about following a presentation by Revelstoke Mayor Mark McKee to directors at last week’s board meeting in Salmon Arm.
Earlier in the week McKee took a list of requests and recommendations to Victoria where he met with Transportation Minister Todd Stone, Attorney General Susan Anton, Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett and Shuswap MLA Greg Kyllo.
Back on the CSRD board after a two-term hiatus, McKee has previously lobbied hard for improvement to the highway.
With the number of deaths and road closures this winter, he is ramping up efforts to get senior governments to improve safety on the corridor.
McKee’s list addressed the impact of road closures due to fatal accidents, actions to improve road safety and prevent accidents, accident management and highway rescue services.
He pointed out road closures have a major impact on tourism, transportation of goods, on travellers and on communities along the highway.
He said he recently read that the cost to the economy is $3 million every hour the road is closed.
Acknowledging that four-laning the highway is a long-term project, McKee recommended a number of interim measures.
McKee also asked that a coroner and accident analyst be stationed in Revelstoke.
At the moment, getting either of these two officials to an accident scene can add many hours to road closures.
McKee advised CSRD directors the province agreed to situating a traffic analyst in the area but feels Golden is the more appropriate location.
“I’m not 100 per cent happy, but knowing it will affect road closures is good,” McKee said. “We’re going to be working on getting a coroner and then an accident analyst for Revelstoke.”
Speed signs that can be adjusted to the weather were slated to be installed in the Enchanted Forest area next year, but the minister of transportation will now look at moving the dates forward in order to have them operational by fall.
McKee says he previously met with Kootenay MP David Wilks and Stone with regard to four-laning the highway and is optimistic federal funding is on the horizon.
“I want them sitting down at the table and coming up with a plan that is reasonable with upgrades until there is four-laning; ultimately that’s what will reduce accidents and save lives,” he said, describing the meeting in Victoria as a re-hash. “It was nice to have the ear and the eye of government… They know there is a problem.”
Area C South Shuswap director Paul Demenok said the “carnage” on the highway is in the forefront of every conversation in his area, particularly following the Feb. 1 accident in Tappen that took the life of Sorrento realtor Mary Gould.
Demenok inquired if other directors had heard about issues with semi-trailer drivers and the need not only to fix the road but also the drivers.
“There is a problem with the truckers, it’s unbelievable the way they drive,” he said. “There don’t seem to be standards.”
McKee agreed the issue was brought up but pointed out the “province is concerned about mobility of goods and services.”
McKee’s presentation to the officials included a request for reduced speeds for trucks in certain areas, improved training for drivers and improved certification, increased inspections in winter months and increased enforcement.
“Things like commercial vehicle inspection should be done in winter, making sure trucks and drivers are operating as safely as possible,” McKee said, noting several small incremental changes can lead to big results in saving lives and reducing highway closures. “And they should be looking at critical accident zones in order to raise the bar for safety.”
Salmon Arm Mayor Nancy Cooper said she has been told 10,000 vehicles come through the area daily and agreed regional district directors, municipal leaders and citizens should lobby together for needed improvements.
Salmon Arm director and SILGA rep Chad Eliason asked directors if they would like to make a hasty resolution in order to meet the organization’s Feb. 28 deadline.
Directors resolved “that the provincial and federal government come up with a long-term commitment to increase the level of safety on our highway system by improving proven accident zones as well as highway upgrading to four-lane highway wherever possible and warranted.”
Sicamous Mayor Terry Rysz thanked McKee and emphasized the need for collaboration.
“The feds have not come through with enough funding over the years – we could go on for hours,” he said. “The province can’t do it on their own; we’ve got to get the feds to the table and it hasn’t happened yet. Our local MP has been supportive but he hasn’t been able to get anything and he’s sitting in the House.”
“The level of awareness is at a peak right now; we just need to keep riding the same train and keep it going.”