After a fatal collision on Highway 37 on January 13, a former Kitimat mayor says more needs to be done to keep the roads safe during the winter months.
Joanne Monaghan was instrumental in getting Highway 37 South’s winter maintenance level raised from Class B to Class A during her term on the Kitimat-Stikine regional district board as a Kitimat municipal representative.
Now she says driving conditions have improved, but snow clearing and application of sand and salt have gone back to a state she finds unacceptable.
“It was dismal, much like it is now,” she said of conditions which brought on the campaign that has been dubbed Sand for Souls.
Monaghan wrote a letter to Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Todd Stone after the Jan. 13 collision which had claimed the life of one person and sent three others to hospital. That followed three less severe accidents on the same stretch of highway a few days prior.
In the letter, Monaghan explains the state of the roads and asks for Stone’s help in changing the level of road maintenance.
“There are certain areas that are always bad but no sand or gravel seem to find their way to those spots,” she writes. “It’s very serious for our community,” she later said. “It’s very unsafe.”
The crash occurred shortly before 10 a.m. Jan. 13, approximately 28 kilometres north of Kitimat near Onion Lake. A southbound Chevrolet crossed the centre line into the path of oncoming traffic and was struck on the passenger side by a northbound Toyota.
Police are still investigating the collision and reported in a release that the road was slippery thanks to ice and snow that day.
Nechako Northcoast Construction, which holds the road maintenance contract for Highway 37 South, sent out a winter storm warning alert via email the day before the collision, warning drivers of expected snowfall for the weekend, as well as the challenge of possible freezing rain.
With frost as deep as five feet in the ground, Nechako official Tyler Nesbitt said in the alert that rain falling on pavement that deeply cold could freeze very quickly.
“Our crews will be out in force, 24 hours a day, plowing snow and applying sand to restore traction. However, if the temperatures rise quickly and the rainfall amount is significant, there is the possibility of rain turning to ice over the sand we apply,” he said in the email. “We have experienced this situation in the past, where essentially as fast as you can lay the sand down, the rain turns to ice over it.”
Environment Canada reported six millimetres of rain and one centimetre of snow in Kitimat on January 13.
Contractors clearing highways with a B classification cannot allow more than six centimetres of snow to accumulate and that drops to four centimetres for Class A highways.
This applies to one full lane in either direction.
Based on standards published by the transportation ministry, contractors must also “deploy resources appropriate to key locations” at least 60 minutes in advance of a severe weather or forecasted hazardous road conditions. And contractors must perform an immediate application of material to restore traction when slippery surfaces are encountered during patrols regardless of a highway’s classification.