New Three Valley Gap avalanche control system announced

New avalanche control system, variable speed limit signs coming to Trans-Canada Highway west of Revelstoke.

B.C. Minister of Transportation Todd Stone showcases the new variable speed sign and avalanche control technology in Revelstoke on Monday

B.C. Minister of Transportation Todd Stone showcases the new variable speed sign and avalanche control technology in Revelstoke on Monday

A new avalanche control system is coming to Three Valley Gap that the government hopes will reduce the length of closures on the Trans-Canada Highway.

Minister of Transportation Todd Stone was in Revelstoke on Monday to announce several new highway initiatives.

“We heard loud and clear improvements were needed at Three Valley Gap to shorten the duration of long closures,” said the minister during a press conference in Woodenhead Park.

The biggest is the new avalanche control system for Three Valley Gap. The ministry will be installing remote-control explosive devices along avalanche paths above the highway. The devices can be operated remotely, at any time of day, eliminating the need for day-time helicopter bombing missions that require several-hour-long highway closures.

“This system will significantly cut down on the duration of closures when they take place,” said Stone.

A request for expressions of interests is being issued to bring in the new avalanche control system. It will be similar to the system used on the Laurie slide path east of Revelstoke, and in Kootenay Pass on Highway 3.

The devices are not expected to be installed until 2016.

Two other initiatives were also announced. Twenty new variable speed signs will be installed on the highway between Revelstoke and the Perry River Bridge. The electronic signs will monitor road conditions and adjust the speed limit accordingly. The signs were first announced when the government increased speed limits across the province last year; they will be installed in the fall.

“This is technology used in other parts of the world and it’s proved to be highly effective and saves lives,” said Stone.

The third development is the installation of new traffic light timers at the three highway intersections in Revelstoke. The new Automax system will use sensors embedded in the road to determine if traffic is backed up at a stop light. It will then adjust traffic-signal timing accordingly to speed up the movement of traffic.

Mayor Mark McKee welcomed the announcements.

“Our number one concern is preservation of human life and injuries,” he said. “We’re still looking forward to the day we have a four-lane Trans-Canada Highway, but I think that today we are fortunate we have minister and provincial government that understands the direction we have to go.”

Stone was asked afterwards about efforts to reduce the length of closures following accidents, which can last for up to 10 hours in the case of a fatality. He said they have advertised twice to hire a coroner in Revelstoke but haven’t found a suitable candidate. He also said they were working with the RCMP to figure out ways to keep traffic moving if an accident is declared a crime scene.

Norm Macdonald, the MLA for Columbia River-Revelstoke, criticized the announcement, saying the announcement was a distraction from the government’s lack of action on four-laning the highway.

“Minister Stone is coming into Revelstoke, bringing in dignitaries for a photo op, but what the people of Revelstoke and Golden really want to hear are the real numbers that will lead to the fulfilment of Premier Clark’s promise to complete the 4-laning,” said Macdonald in a news release. “What is the total cost of the project? Where is the money in the budget? And exactly when is the project going to be completed?”

Christy Clark said in 2012 that the government would spend $650 million on upgrades over the next 10 years. Stone recently said in a meeting of the legislature’s budget committee that it would cost $6 billion to four-lane the provincial sections of the Trans-Canada Highway from Kamloops to the Alberta border. MP David Wilks recently pegged the cost of upgrading the federal sections at $5 billion.