The Crowsnest Highway winds between British Columbia’s Fraser Valley and southeastern Alberta, tracing the route to a gold mine built more than 150 years ago by British colonists. The two mostly undivided lanes on Highway 3, as it is also known, make pretzel-like mountain turns. In some places, the road rises more than 1,000 meters high and offers a gentle stream of tourists dazzling views of BC’s rugged geography every summer.
In winter, it is a highway that requires caution and patience. But these two qualities have apparently been in short supply along the westernmost part of the route since last month, when a historic storm hit the southern BC Major sections of the Trans-Canada Highway and Coquihalla Highway were damaged by floods and will now be closed for at least another month. leaving Highway 3 as the only artery for commercial traffic between Western Canada and Metro Vancouver.
Before the storm, Crowsnest saw an average of 1,850 passenger vehicles and 775 trucks a day, according to the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure.
Now, its commercial traffic has almost quadrupled to more than 3,000 trucks a day. This has created a major bottleneck that puts drivers at risk, challenges provincial and local authorities and creates persistent supply chain pain for a number of industries in western Canada during the crucial Christmas season.
Shortly after the storm, when Highway 3 reopened for commercial trucking and substantial travel, two semi-vehicles had a violent frontal collision that killed the two drivers and one of their passengers.
BC Highway Patrol Corporal Mike Halskov said it appears the accident, which closed the highway for 16 hours, was due to icy sidewalks and inexperience of motorists outside the province.
The Crowsnest, Cpl. Halskov warned, is “not for the faint of heart.”
“It has to be treated with respect, especially if you are not familiar with the route,” he said.
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Sheri Bennett, who has been driving a truck since 2004, was about to take on her sixth trip after the flood on Highway 3 last week. She and her longtime passenger Rollie – a Chihuahua in a coat she said was “conceived in a truck and born in a truck” – were transporting juice from Sun-Rype Products Ltd. in Kelowna to a warehouse in the Vancouver suburb of Langley. They had stopped to rest in the small BC Interior by Keremeos.
Normally, she said, it takes 11 hours to transport goods from Vancouver to Calgary at Coquihalla, a much more direct route between Hope and Kamloops with two lanes in each direction and a third on large hills so slower trucks can climb safely on them . A recent trip from Vancouver to Calgary via Highway 3 took her two days.
“This route is a nightmare,” Mrs. Bennett said as she stood by her rig and enjoyed a cigarette.
The danger, she claimed, is exacerbated by the fact that there are many inexperienced truck drivers on the roads these days, most of whom are paid by the mile. The slower they go, the less they earn.
Over her VHF radio, the friendly talk between truck drivers has become tense and aggressive in recent weeks as they negotiate Highway 3.
“They will say, ‘I do not care what it is.’ I’m driving my way. It’s my life. You pull your load, I pull mine. ‘ You have people passing double fixed items on, on corners. They are driving too fast. They’re right to the back! It’s taking your life into your own hands. “
Chris Cameron, who drives fruit from the Puneet & Brothers Orchards in Osoyoos down Highway 3 at least once a week, said he also sees newer drivers creating problems on the route. The first snow of the season has made conditions more treacherous, he said, in part because the province has not maintained the highway well enough.
“One would think it would be the dumbest simple and basic thing to do, just to make sure the steep hills are salted and cleaned – that the brake control is salted and cleared so we can pull in and out,” he said. . “But no.”
A dashcam video taken along Highway 3 went viral recently. It shows a semi-driver screaming past two other transport trucks around a double-lined blind corner on Highway 5a, which flows north out of Highway 3 at Princeton. The BC Highway Patrol is trying to determine who the driver was and what company they worked for.
The provincial transport ministry says it is aware of the situation on Highway 3 and has worked with the truck industry to publicize the need for drivers to slow down. The ministry has posted pictures on social media showing the most treacherous stretches.
Police have stepped up enforcement along the route, talking to truck drivers about the dangers and turning up to 10 passenger vehicles a day if drivers do not take on significant trips, according to Paula Cousins, a regional director at the Department of Transportation who heads the province. motorway network in the southern interior.
Ms. Cousins, who grew up in Terrace, where she drove with a shotgun in her father’s shovel truck as he drove backways twice as steep as Highway 3’s steepest climb (which is 8 percent), said the ministry is increasing salting and grinding on the route.
“The route works well in normal times. It is a safe highway and commercial goods run on it, but not so many, ”she said.
“There is not much we can do if Mother Nature decides to present us with another event of 100 or 200 millimeters of precipitation, but right now the situation looks positive that it is not in the cards and we will be in able to get some of the other keyways open. “
Having Trans-Canada and Coquihalla closed is as serious a situation as if only one major highway serves Toronto, according to David Earle, president and CEO of the BC Truckers Association.
“But spread it out over hundreds of miles, through the mountains, into the snow – that’s what we’re dealing with,” he said.
Now that supplies of food, fuel and other basic necessities have stabilized as the emergency recovery subsides, companies in western Canada can begin to lay out plans to bring their products to market, Mr. Earle. But it will take time, he said, and delays in shipments of all kinds are likely as Christmas approaches.
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