Discussion was quick to flow when Columbia Shuswap Regional District directors were asked to support a request for a meeting and information on federal plans to upgrade the Trans-Canada Highway.
Newly elected Area A Rural Golden director Karen Cathcart’s Jan. 6 letter to Kootenay-Columbia MP David Wilkes expressed “deep concern” about the five fatalities that occurred on Highway 1 between Golden and Revelstoke over the Christmas season.
Cathcart said she is aware highway upgrades have been discussed at the ministry level for many years and asked, “What are your plans to upgrade the highway in the near future? Are you able to provide timelines for funding?”
The Area A director also asked for a meeting with Wilkes while he is in town this week.
“But this is a problem for all of us,” she said.
Back in the Revelstoke mayor’s chair after a two-term hiatus, Mark McKee pointed out he is putting a presentation together for a meeting with Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Todd Stone.
McKee provided new directors with background information, explaining that when he last sat at the CSRD board, he was part of a group with representation from Cache Creek to the Alberta border which had asked the province and the federal government to each ante up $150 million per year for up to 10 years for TCH upgrades.
Acknowledging that while money for upgrades is not likely to appear for a “big fix” in the near future, he said there are operational issues that can help reduce the number of accidents and fatalities.
“On average there are 15 fatal accidents and 220 injuries a year,” he said, noting there were seven highway closures in the first seven days of the year and the Revelstoke highway rescue team was called out 12 times from Jan. 1-5.
“We had 67 road closures in our area last year and we’re going to get a higher number of fatalities; it’s getting horrendous.”
As well, he called for an investigation into whether current road contractors are working well enough to maintain the highway.
McKee also expressed frustration with the number and length of road closures.
“When the highway is closed for eight to 10 hours, it is because the accident investigator has to travel from Kamloops or Kelowna and has to pass all the (stopped) traffic,” he said. “He should be living in Revelstoke, as should the coroner. That would take an eight-hour closure and reduce it immediately.”
On Dec. 27, when two fatalities occurred west of Revelstoke, McKee says the highway was left open from Golden to Revelstoke and became jam-packed as westbound travellers continued to pour into the community.
“Churches were opening doors, grocery stores were running out of food as were restaurants. What happens when you have hundreds of people on the roads and it’s minus 19?” he said. “Government has to start getting the message. I have met with RCMP, search and rescue and first responders and nobody is happy.”
Sicamous Mayor Terry Rysz added his support, advising directors he has also set up meetings to discuss the issues.
“I could go into a 20-minute discussion as well and we have to get the whole corridor on-board,” he said, noting the time to wait is long gone. “We have to yell and scream.”
Salmon Arm Mayor Nancy Cooper also offered support saying, “Fatalities are not acceptable and neither are the road closures – we would like to be included.”
“I support this enthusiastically,” added Area C South Shuswap director Paul Demenok, who pointed out his area has had its share of fatal accidents this year as well.
Area E Rural Sicamous director and CSRD chair Rhona Martin told directors that before the highway was four-laned near Malakwa in the 1980s, it was the scene of many bad accidents.
“Since 1987, there has been only one fatality and that was a trucker who had an aneurism, so you can see how four-laning saves lives.”