Regional district to consider supporting truck traffic ban on Highway 5A | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Regional district to consider supporting truck traffic ban on Highway 5A

Highway 5A near Merritt
Image Credit: Google Maps
December 26, 2020 - 1:06 PM

The Thompson-Nicola Regional District board will decide in mid-January whether to support a call for a ban on commercial truck traffic on the Old Merritt Highway — Highway 5A that winds from Kamloops to Merritt south of Aberdeen.

At the TNRD’s last board meeting of the year, Bob Price spoke on behalf of Bruce Chernoff, owner of Stump Lake Ranch, and area residents regarding commercial truck traffic on the highway.

In 2013, following a deadly accident, then-Kamloops-South Thompson MLA Kevin Krueger took a petition to the B.C. Legislature, requesting that commercial trucks be banned from the route.

“We have come down this path before,” said Price, alluding to the 2013 petition, which the TNRD board at the time supported. However, a report from the Transportation of Ministry and Infrastructure concluded then that such an action was not necessary.

According to Price, in 2013, 17 per cent of all crashes on Highway 5A involved commercial vehicles, which was just under one in five. Despite numerous improvements to the road and additional enforcement measures, accidents were up an additional nine per cent in 2018. During that year, 26 per cent of all crashes on the highway, or about one in four, involved commercial transport trucks.

“Frankly, the reasons are obvious,” Price said. “Careless, reckless driving by too many of our truckers unfamiliar with a winding highway with no shoulders and poor sight lines. It’s a recipe for disaster and those disasters, sadly, happen all too often.”

Several letters of support were presented to the TNRD board by those who claimed to have had many near accidents with commercial trucks and to have witnessed numerous egregious road safety violations by those same commercial drivers.

“As I drove to the office to write this email, I counted nine trucks that went by me between the forestry building and the home ranch — that’s a five-kilometre distance,” John Parkes of Nicola Ranch said in his letter. “Highway 5A is a dangerous highway because of commercial traffic. Every time an ambulance goes by, I look at the time. I look at the time because I’m thinking when the school bus comes back and forth from town. My sons are on that bus.”

Upper Nicola Band Chief Harvey McLeod also supports limiting truck traffic on Highway 5A.

“We supported others that wanted provincial intervention to review and stop semi and other commercial trucks from using Highway 5A,” McLeod said. “The road was not designed for this amount of truck traffic. That was our opinion and we still stand by that. Yes, over the years, there were road improvements made between Merritt and Kamloops. All good, but this did not stop or give our citizens the satisfaction that travelling on that highway was safe.”

Lori Brewer, a Douglas Lake Ranch employee who has lived in the area for her entire life, and whose daughter snapped a photo of one commercial transport truck passing another in a tight corner on a double solid line, believes improvements have in some cases been “more of a hindrance than an aid.”

Reflectors on the side of the road, she believes, make it more difficult to see wildlife, noting because the ditches are not mowed, it is even harder to see deer, which frequently cross the road in herds. A smaller vehicle, she said in her letter, has a much better chance of avoiding a collision with animals than does a semi-truck.

Price said the road itself was not designed to handle the weight of today’s trucks, noting annual maintenance costs are “extremely high” due to the wear and tear caused by commercial traffic.

There have also been concerns about environmental impacts, as Price noted the highway winds its way through “pristine grasslands and along the shores of vital waterways, which suffer irreparable damage when a crashed semi spills its fuel or worse.”

“The question is why are truckers using this route, 5A, when a far safer highway running absolutely parallel to 5A is right there, available, and was in fact built for transport traffic?” Price said, referring to the Coquihalla Highway.

“A lot of people, at first, think that they’re trying to avoid the weigh scales, but that’s not what we found out in our research, and our research has been [over] several months. Instead, what the truckers are trying to do is simply cut costs.”

This research, according to Price, revealed that commercial truck drivers are attempting to avoid steeper grades, save fuel and reduce wear and tear on their vehicles.

“We get that, but at what price?” Price asked. “Surely a human life has to be worth more than any amount of diesel fuel or brake maintenance.”

Several TNRD directors voiced their support for the initiative, but there were others, including Merritt Mayor Linda Brown, who questioned whether a ban on commercial traffic would be an ideal solution.

“I drive the Coquihalla quite often and, in my opinion, there are as many accidents and silly stuff happening with trucks on the Coquihalla, perhaps as much as there are on 5A,” Brown said.

“I also drive what I call the bottom road, 5A, a lot. But mainly, when I get scared of driving the Coquihalla, I take the 5A road. There are trucks, but I don’t find it a problem for me with some of the trucks than I do on the Coquihalla. I agree with your issues, there are issues with truck traffic. I just don’t know that your solution is the right one for me. I recognize that there are accidents on 5A, but there are accidents on the Coquihalla, as well.”

The board will revisit the request at its Jan. 14 meeting.

- This story was originally published in the Merritt Herald.


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