KAMLOOPS — Many questions need answering following the series of snowstorms and the resultant problems on area highways over the past week or so. In particular, we need to address the problems on the Coquihalla Highway. The highway was open, then it was closed, then it was open. There were long lines of traffic waiting to get through. There were long lines of trucks and cars in the ditch, lined up unable to move, freezing rain, heavy snow, and the list goes on. It was a dangerous situation and we need to determine a better way to deal with that particular highway in these difficult times. Let me say right up front, I am not blaming anyone in particular for these issues. That highway, like a couple of others in the province, can be a nightmare for road crews trying to keep it open. I guess my question is- at what point do we simply close it down until it’s safe to proceed? Was there a point we could have said “this road is too dangerous to travel” and simply closed it. Did we wait too long? Those questions are not easily answered, and we need to discuss those issues, without pointing fingers, simply make some decisions so that we don’t run into this kind of situation again. Because if we are to believe climate change experts, this isn’t the last winter we’ll see these kinds of storms. When we see lines of vehicles waiting for supplies, when we see potential emergency situations if people become ill while stranded, we need to ensure that we deal with a problem before it gets to a life or death situation. Conditions on the Coquihalla Highway can change so very quickly, and despite the best efforts of everyone, can deteriorate very rapidly. And this was a particularly bad series of storms, and no one can be blamed for trying to keep the road open and traffic flowing. But is there a point we have to say- shut it down.
There are a number of additional questions I have- unfortunately they are not really possible to answer. When we put a mandatory chainup in effect, do officials always monitor it? I am told by motorists on the road that they saw trucks that weren’t chained. How many cars and SUV’s had M + S tires instead of good winter tires? If these storms didn’t convince B.C.’s Transportation Minister that allowing M + S tires in the winter was a bad idea, I don’t know what would. But on the other hand, we don’t have statistics to prove my point. Should we develop some sort of emergency system to have supplies available to people stranded? Should we have increased police enforcement to try and get people to use their heads and drive to the conditions? These are all valid questions, and they need some discussion. But of course we can have all the discussion we want, if people don’t use their heads and drive to the conditions, if the “professional” drivers won’t drive professionally, if people with 4-wheel drives won’t stop thinking they’re invincible, we’re going nowhere. The first people we blame in these situations are often the road maintenance companies. They take a lot of flak every winter. But they work in abysmal conditions, and they do an admirable job. I can’t say if they’re always without fault in these situations, I have no idea. I think it’s a combination of things that leads to these situations. But we need to sit down and see if improvements can be made to make sure the right protocols are in place. We are very fortunate that we didn’t see a more tragic scenario develop. It wouldn’t have taken much.