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EDITORIAL: Feds, province failing at highway safety

Negligence is defined as a failure to take proper care to do something. Both the Alberta government and Parks Canada find themselves squarely within the landscape of being at risk of a fatal crash occurring in their jurisdiction as a result of their inaction on an issue that has been well-known for some time.

It is a tale of two jurisdictions and one highway.

The Trans-Canada to be exact. This trans-continental highway bisects the Bow Valley, and lies within the jurisdiction of Alberta Transportation and the federal government where it passes through national parks.

Both have failed when it comes to protecting public safety and it is time that the provincial government and Parks Canada step up to address these outstanding issues before somebody is killed.

The TCH through Banff National Park is fenced to prevent wildlife from crossing and being hit, and the speed limit is 90 km/h. Outside the national park and through Canmore, it is unfenced with a speed limit of 110 km/h and this is resulting in a risk to public safety and to wildlife.

An elk herd in the Canmore area frequents the valley bottom and spends a lot of time inside the community's developed areas, especially in the winter months. Research by wildlife biologists tells us that elk choose habitat in developed areas like this to avoid predators like cougars and wolves, which are more wary of entering into these spaces. 

But this means this herd of elk can be frequently found along the TCH, which has led to several being struck and killed by vehicles over the past week. 

For those calling on the local town council to solve this issue – they are not responsible for the highway or its safety. In fact, the municipal government is not in charge of managing wildlife within the town's borders at all, even though many keyboard warriors like to think they are.

This issue lies at the feet of the UCP government and several cabinet ministers, like Minister of Transportation Ric McIver and Minister of Environment and Parks Jason Nixon. 

Fencing, wildlife overpasses or underpasses, signage with flashing lights to warn drivers of the presence of these elk, or reducing the speed limit – are all jobs for the province to include in its budget. 

It is a complex problem that will require funding to fix. Fencing long stretches of a highway is not cheap. The work to replace the fencing in Banff National Park from the east gates to the Sunshine exit cost $26 million.

Furthermore, infrastructure that allows wildlife to safely cross the highway is needed in addition to the fencing. We have split this valley in half with a four-lane 110 km/h highway and ignored the implications for wildlife. 

To the west in Yoho National Park there is a serious situation unfolding with respect to the Field Fire Department. Parks Canada has failed to renegotiate a new contract with the volunteer-run fire department, and as a result, every single driver who passes through Yoho is at risk.

That is because if you were to crash your vehicle and need firefighters to help extract you from the wreckage – Field's firefighters are no longer responding. 

Other fire departments in the region – Golden and Lake Louise – are not responsible for this stretch of highway and have made it clear they are not going to respond. Parks Canada has had plenty of time to renegotiate a new contract, but failed to do so. Now there is a risk to public safety.

Negligence is defined as a failure to take proper care to do something. Both the Alberta government and Parks Canada find themselves squarely within the landscape of being at risk of a fatal crash occurring in their jurisdiction as a result of their inaction on an issue that has been well-known for some time.

Failure to install mitigations to keep elk off the highway and failure to ensure a new contract was negotiated with the Field Fire Department is not good enough. 



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