Coquihalla safety questioned after massive crash
A day after a massive crash on the Coquihalla Highway that sent 31 people to hospital Sunday, B.C.’s transportation officials are explaining why they decided keep the roadway open, but will not say if any changes will be made in response to the pileup.
Just after 8 p.m., two Greyhound buses, several tractor trailers and two passenger vehicles slammed into each other in a series of crashes at the bottom of a slippery hill near Hope, B.C.
The wintry conditions paired with poor visibility were too much for even professional drivers to handle.
“It’s a horrible accident. My heart obviously goes out to everyone involved,” said Claire Trevena, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure.
B.C.’s Highway 5 is infamous for being a dangerous road even under the best conditions. Earlier this month, a man died in a multi-vehicle crash near Larson Hill. Days before that, a tour bus was involved in another collision.
One driver told CTV News the highway looked like a sheet of ice on Sunday, while another said conditions were simply “ugly.”
DriveBC, a branch of the Ministry of Transportation that notifies the public about road conditions, issued a travel advisory for the Coquihalla late Sunday morning due to blowing snow and fog.
TRAVEL ADVISORY #BCHwy5 - from #HopeBC to #Merritt. Poor visibility due to blowing snow and fog conditions. Travelers are advised to please exercise caution, leave space and be prepared. Full details: https://t.co/EwNfTqBL5t— Drive BC (@DriveBC) February 25, 2018
In the afternoon, the agency issued a second warning.
Although the province asked drivers not to travel unless absolutely necessary, officials told CTV News that a shutdown was not on the table.
“It's striking a balancing act,” said ministry spokesperson Janelle Erwin. “We look at the weather patterns and we make sure we're keeping the roadway at a level that folks are able to pass.”
Coquihalla snowshed protocol was implemented, meaning the company contracted to maintain the corridor had more equipment in place to deal with the snowfall. The company had traffic control staff on hand and tow trucks ready to help in case vehicles spun out.
Trevena said the area where the collision occurred had even been plowed 20 minutes before the pileup.
“A lot of work had gone into it,” she said.
The semi-trucks driving Sunday likely would not have had chains since the southbound lanes did not have a chain-up in effect, according to the ministry. Semis heading northbound into the pass, however, did need to use them.
Erwin said closing the highway is something she does not take lightly, considering the impact it will have on travellers and the economy.
Just over a year ago, the ministry, then under the BC Liberals, was criticized for closing, then re-opening, then re-closing the highway. The confusion left hundreds stranded in their cars and trucks overnight.
Trevena said she’s waiting to see what investigators find before commenting on any potential changes to highway rules going forward.
With a report from CTV Vancouver’s David Molko