The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure has announced plans to dramatically overhaul signage for the Kitimat River Hill along Highway 37 between Kitimat and Terrace.
The announcement was made last week by Skeena district manager for transportation, Darrell Gunn, following a meeting between him, ministry area manager for roads Nathan Voogd, and ex-Kitimat mayor Joanne Monaghan, on July 27.
The snaking section of highway, which descends towards the Kitimat River Bridge from the north, was the scene of a fatal accident in January this year, prompting calls by Monaghan for the ministry to look into improving the roadway.
Gunn said a full review of the hill by engineers from the ministry’s highway safety division and the highway design group earlier this year had been completed and recommendations made for the hill.
As part of the month-long survey, the engineers reviewed the history of incidents on the hill, studied LIDAR images to look at the physical geomatics, and then considered which improvements would be warranted to improve safety on the hill.
“What the engineers found was that with the grade and curvature of the hill, it would definitely benefit from installation of enhanced warning signs to help drivers adjust their driving appropriately for the hill, for road conditions and for the road ahead,” said Gunn.
“It is a steeper part of the corridor and has two back-to-back curves. By enhancing the signage it will make the dangers even more apparent to the driver so that they will adjust appropriately for their driving ability and their vehicle.”
He said the speed limits on the hill will remain the same, but that the advisory speed would change – the advisory speed is based on engineering standards and is a safe speed for motorists to navigate a particular section.
Gunn said even though the survey had established that the accident statistics for the hill were below average, the ministry had nevertheless decided to go ahead with improvements to the signage.
“What we found was that Kitimat River Hill and Highway 37 statistically have had fewer accidents on average compared to the provincial average for highways of the same classification. Statistically speaking, it is performing well,” said Gunn.
Statistics provided by the ministry list three fatalities on Kitimat River Hill since 1997, with a total of 14 fatalities on Highway 37 south for the same period.
“We don’t like any incidents at all, but as far as our provincial average goes, it is nothing out of the ordinary,” added Gunn. “That being said, we still take safety very seriously.”
He said of the 20 signs that will be installed along the roadway on Kitimat River Hill, some will replace existing signs while the rest will be new installations.
While the signs are being installed, work to extend the guard rail at the top of the hill towards Terrace will also be completed, work which had already been scheduled for 2017.
He said the signs, which will cost between $10,000 and $15,000, are still being produced and will be installed in September before the end of fall.
“These will be general warning signs, but they will be oversized and there will be additions made to really highlight the changes, including starburst speed advisory signs and oversized chevrons,” said Gunn.
He added that while there are no immediate plans for reconstruction on the hill, the ministry hasn’t ruled that out completely.
“We will continue to review different long-term improvement opportunities for the hill, to see whether there are any physical enhancements that could be made as part of future projects,” said Gunn. “There are no plans right now, but we are looking into it.”