Hauling cattle to Kamloops, Mike Rose can see and feel a host of safety problems along Highway 5A.
He can see it written on the faces of oncoming transport drivers.
“I’m going 35 or 40 km/h and there’s a guy coming around the corner,” said Rose, manager of Quilchena Cattle Co. “You can see from the big size of his eyes that he’s absolutely terrified.”
When that happens, Rose reacts by turning into the road shoulder, his truck striking the markers on the road’s edge as an audible reminder of how close he’s coming to the ditch or to being an accident statistic.
It’s those near misses along the highway that have Randy Murray concerned, too. The Ministry of Transportation maintains that the accident rate has fallen on the route — since 2007, the crash rate has been below the provincial average — but it’s the close calls that have to be considered as well, Murray said.
“I think there’s more traffic on that route than anybody realizes. It’s not just the volume, it’s the type of traffic,” said Murray, TNRD director for Upper Nicola.
Rose finds fault with some of the long-distance haulers from the Lower Mainland. Too many of the drivers seem inadequately trained, poorly prepared, distracted or even unlicensed, he said. They’re not accustomed to the route, so when they hit a 60 km/h corner such as the one at Shumway Lake, they don’t reduce speed.
And the volume of heavy transport traffic is damaging the road as well, he added.
Between Stump and Nicola lakes, steering wheels almost bounce out of drivers’ hands, he said. The road is not built to handle the weight and volume.
“You can clearly see that the road bed is ill-prepared. The down force and the lateral force cause the pavement to roll up. The road bed was never designed to be subjected to those weights.”
When the road deteriorates to the point where truckers are losing vehicle parts, maybe they’ll take the Coquihalla instead, he figures.
“I almost hope they don’t fix it,” he said.
A southbound brake check might help alleviate some of the traffic, if only by discouraging commercial truckers who avoid the Coquihalla to bypass weigh scales, he said.
“There are so many trucks ending up in the ditch. If they would just put in a scale. The reason truckers avoid the Coquihalla is to avoid the weigh scale.”
The simplest answer to the problem would be to remove the 5A designation and declare the highway a scenic route with heavy trucks restricted to local traffic only, he said.
The Ministry maintains that safety is its first priority and that the highway is safe provided drivers abide by posted limits and curve advisory speeds. Area residents say many do not.
The TNRD wants to hear directly from the ministry on the matter after receiving a letter that leaves their questions unanswered. In December, TNRD staff were advised by Minister of Transportation Mary Polak that “we are not going to ban transport trucks from this provincial highway.”
“It’s one of those things — the provincial government doesn’t want to restrict traffic and go against industry,” Murray said.
MLA Kevin Krueger was surprised to learn last week that the ministry had ruled out a truck restriction.
Krueger said he’s not giving up on the matter, even as the clock winds down on his retirement from politics. In his 17 years as MLA there have been a lot of issues that have run up against initial resistance or refusal, only to be resolved when enough people express concern. He intends to table a petition from concerned residents in the legislature next month.
“We’ll see the strength of the petition,” he said.
The drive for signatures is just getting under way, led by Merritt-area resident Bob Swart. Swart said his concern is for the well-being of the travelling public as well as for environmental risk to waters along the route.
“At the end of the day, the ministry needs to take a deeper look at the issue and invite all parties to an open forum,” Swart said.
“I think something needs to be done for the long term,” said Dan Fremlin, manager of Stump Lake Ranch. He and his family were hit head-on by a chip truck in 2010. His wife had to be cut from the vehicle by the Jaws of Life. Road safety improvements came after that, but they don’t address the underlying problem.
“There’d be tons of support if something were circulated.”
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INDUSTRY DOESN'T WANT RESTRICTIONS IMPOSED
The B.C. Trucking Association is on side with the ministry, said president and CEO Louise Yako. The industry in general is concerned about restrictions on any route, she said.
“You want to have as many different routes available to trucks as possible so they can be as efficient as possible,” she said.
They often see restrictions sought by local residents, particularly on urban routes.
“Having said all that, I am completely empathetic with residents’ concerns,” she added. The association has discussed the issue with the ministry and was assured that steps have been taken to mitigate crash risks.
“If there is more that can and should be done, and if there’s evidence something needs to be done, that’s something we would certainly support.”
Greg Munden, owner of Munden Ventures, a Kamloops-based trucking firm, said his drivers don’t use the route other than to avoid inclement weather on the higher-elevation Coquihalla. He still can’t support restrictions, though, since it would set a precedent that could lead to restrictions on other routes.
“I don’t think the crash data really supports the concerns,” he said.
He was involved in a ministry task force that examined the route several years ago. The road met all standards, though the ministry did follow through with additional measures. Enforcement and inspection were stepped up in 2010. Permanent speed-reader boards, new signs, reflectors and rumble strips have been installed since then. A five-kilometre stretch near Merritt and 13 km between Cardeau Hill and Stump Lake were resurfaced in 2009 and 2010.
Yako doesn’t believe truckers are trying to avoid brake checks, since the safety inspections serve their best interest.
Norman Monkman, a trucker who was stopped at the 5A brake check above Knutsford on Thursday, said he uses the route occasionally. He said he finds the drive reasonably safe.
“It’s easier pulling, especially when you’ve got a heavier load,” he said. “It kind of breaks up the monotony, too.”