When I was growing up in Calgary, my family would always travel west for our summer holidays. We’d stuff the car with camping supplies and in we’d pile, heading towards the coast along the Trans-Canada Highway.
There were two sections of the road that really scared my parents: Rogers Pass and Three Valley Gap.
When on Oct. 17, a portion of the rock bluff there sluffed, causing damage to a number of vehicles and causing a major accident that shut down the highway, it was a wake-up call for a lot of people.
Locals have been preaching that the section of highway there is unsafe and it’s only a matter of time before someone is even more seriously injured.
I met with Shannon Smith, the woman whose vehicle was totalled on Oct. 17 a few weeks ago over coffee. Smith was lucky to escape with a fractured vertebrae and a few small scratches.
When we first met, she was moving around slowly and carefully – before the snow flew – with a cane. The way she went about her whole life had been changed.
“It’s amazing how it changes your whole perspective of things,” she said.
Rock sluffs are nothing new in B.C. and the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure has some structures in place on roads around the province to mitigate the falling debris.
At Three Valley Gap, the situation is different. The rock fences they’d usually employ aren’t four-season and can’t stand up to the snow and avalanche activity in the area.
The Ministry said they’re working on a new type of rock fence that could work through all seasons.
“The intent would be to install and test a new rock fall fence system at a select area of Three Valley Gap,” the Ministry said in a statement to the Review’s questions regarding safety measures at Three Valley Gap. “If successful, the system could then be expanded to other rock fall areas in the Three Valley Gap area site.”
While that process might be far away, the government needs to find an interim solution. It’s not worth risking people’s lives.
Weather issues of any kind – extended periods of hot and dry weather, heavy rainfall events, and significant localized wind storms – all contribute to rock sluffs.
So any weather typical of the Rocky Mountains can affect the stability of rock slopes in the area.
That day, other vehicles were damaged with the sluff.
Smith is slowly recovering and is using her story to help raise more awareness of the issue.
“If it can get something done,” she says of her story. “That’s all I want.”
But she may never be the same behind the wheel on the Trans-Canada again.
“I’m not having problems going out of town,” she says. “It’s the coming home part … I almost feel it’s the rock bluff, knowing it can fall at any time.”
Revelstokians should never feel afraid to come home. And it shouldn’t be dangerous for visitors to come to our beautiful town.