The Ministry of Transportation has closed the door to restricting heavy truck traffic along Highway 5A, but MLA Kevin Krueger said he’s not prepared to see the matter dismissed.
Regional district directors want to hear directly from the Ministry of Transportation after getting a letter from the ministry outlining the current policy of permitting heavy truck traffic on the busy secondary route between Kamloops and Merritt.
A head-on collision between two transport trucks last fall that killed both drivers brought to a head longstanding safety concerns about the highway.
In his letter to TNRD, highways department director Norm Parkes didn’t mention possible restrictions, only that the ministry is examining the feasibility of a southbound pullout for inspecting trucks.
Minister of Transportation Mary Polak indicated in the aftermath of the October crash that she would wait for the results of a police investigation to consider restricting heavy trucks.
Polak could not be reached for comment on Thursday, but ministry staff responded via email. The ministry maintains that since 2007, the route’s crash rate has been below the provincial average.
“Trucks are permitted on all numbered highways, and the ministry is not going to ban transport trucks from this provincial highway,” the email states.
At Thursday’s TNRD meeting, director Nancy Bepple moved that the board seek written clarification from the ministry. She abandoned that motion after director Jim Rivett suggested they invite an official to appear.
Bepple said they need to know the volume of traffic along the route, not the number of trucks inspected, data that Parkes provided.
Randy Murray, TNRD chairman and director for Upper Nicola, said he did an informal survey of the route one Sunday morning and counted 36 heavy trucks in 40 minutes.
“Every time I go out there to get hay for my horses, I see a similar pattern,” Murray said. “I’m hopeful that one day we’ll see a willingness to protect folks who live on that highway.”
He’s not hoping for a total ban but wants heavy truck traffic restricted to local vehicles, such as cattle and hay transport. In the absence of such a restriction, “We just hope people drive sensibly,” he said.
Murray expressed environmental concerns as well. The highway parallels a chain of lakes that are part of the Nicola basin. He spotted a hazardous materials truck parked at Quilchena Hotel one day, signaling to him a hazard in itself if such a vehicle were involved in an accident.
MLA Kevin Krueger said it was not his understanding the ministry had dismissed the possibility of restricting truck traffic on the Old Merritt Highway. He’s been pressing for a ban for the past three years.
“I was strongly convinced that we should not have heavy truck traffic along that route unless it’s local traffic,” Krueger said. “It’s a little highway that was never meant for this kind of traffic. There’s a very wonderful and very expensive alternative over the hill.”
Residents along the route are gathering a petition that Krueger plans to table in the House next month.
The ministry has resisted through the years restricting any type of traffic from any route in the province, he noted. Krueger sees a precedent, however, in a bypass route used to divert heavy trucks from Dawson Creek.
“I’m not letting this go,” he said.
The ministry said there has been heightened enforcement on the route for the past three years. Officers have written 134 moving violation tickets after checking almost 2,000 commercial vehicles in the past year. Safety measures such as permanent speed-reader boards, signs, high-visibility reflectors and rumble strips have been installed.