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EDITORIAL: Twinning of stretch of highway a necessity

EDITORIAL: Human and wildlife fatalities along the Rocky Mountains stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway happen nearly every weekend each summer, but certain stretches are more deadly than others.
July 7, 2022
Cartoon by Patrick LaMontagne/www.lamontagneart.com.

Human and wildlife fatalities along the Rocky Mountains stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway happen nearly every weekend each summer, but certain stretches are more deadly than others.

Two people have been killed in head-on collisions in the area just west of Field, B.C. in Yoho National Park in recent weeks. Those deaths have also come with multiple black and grizzly bears being struck and killed.

The first six kilometres of the national park have been twinned ­– which sees the highway split down the middle to provide increased safety – but the remaining 40 kilometres remain uncompleted despite plans ready to proceed.

Though there seems to be a will, with Yoho’s superintendent at the time approving it, the issue – as is the case of many projects – is getting the money from the federal government to complete the work.

Parks Canada completed the design for twinning and wildlife mitigation for the remaining 40km of two-lane Trans-Canada Highway in Yoho National Park.

It came after lengthy public consultations beginning in 2016 and an environmental assessment in 2019 with Indigenous consultation. A draft detailed impact assessment was done in 2020-21, however, since those took place, the plans have been left collecting dust on a shelf.

According to Parks Canada, the stretch of highway sees about 7,500 vehicles a day on average. But it shoots up to between 10,000 and 15,000 a day in the summer as millions of visitors flock to some of the most scenic areas of the country. It's expected to be 23,000 per day by 2046.

In the same overview, there were 234 collisions from 2012-16 along with 132 injuries and five deaths. It proposed several wildlife overpasses and underpasses as well as improving additional passes. New access road locations and intersection designs were also proposed.

Throughout the country, twinning of highways has become best standards and nearby, Parks Canada took 30 years to complete Banff National Park when it began in the 1980s. That work has drastically seen both human and wildlife fatalities drop off.

More recently, the provincial government announced the twinning of Highway 11 between Rocky Mountain House and Sylvan Lake – better known as David Thompson Highway – with the intent to improve safety.

The twinning will further reduce the likelihood of wildlife and human injuries with associated fencing and underpasses and overpasses.

Parks Canada, to its credit, further mitigated potential risk temporarily when two grizzlies and a black bear were hit by vehicles in June in Yoho National Park.

The speed limit was reduced to 70km/h between Sherbrooke Creek and Yoho Valley Road on Field Hill following the June 7 death. When the male bear was killed June 11, the speed dropped to 50km/h.

Whether it’s grizzlies, cougars, black bears, elk or deer, this stretch of the highway sees significant amount of vehicle-wildlife collisions.

But while more can be done, it’s also a shared responsibility of people driving the stretch of highway to follow speed limits, not stop when they see wildlife on the side of the road and always be alert when driving.

With each passing year the project is put off, the price tag will only increase.

What was projected at about $500 million by the project lead in 2018 it could now surpass $750 million.

The unfortunate truth is the higher the cost, the more unlikely work will get done until a significant tragedy occurs that it can no longer be avoided.

People often question what is the cost of human life. Though everyone tries to avoid putting a number on it, the longer we avoid an issue the more the cost is forced on us.

While we look at the cost, a better question to answer is what is the value of life and safety on this stretch of highway?

The decisions in the coming year or years will be the answer from the federal government.