Four fatalities in five weeks on the stretch of Highway 22 between Trail and Castlegar, is both tragic and concerning.
The Trail Times reached out to ask the province if investigations into the deadly crashes on Nov. 20, Dec. 15, and Dec. 20, turned up any commonality, such as slick highways and/or any other road condition of note.
After all, there’s been much vitriol on social media the past several weeks about West Kootenay highways being so poorly maintained this winter.
First of all, police investigations into all three accidents are underway.
But at this point, road conditions are not considered a factor in two of the incidents, the province stated in early January.
“There are many different types of contributing factors that can lead to an incident on our highways,” began the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure’s (MoTI) email reply.
“In at least two of the unfortunate incidents mentioned, highway road conditions were reported to be bare and dry or bare and wet at the time of the incident.”
Because fatalities were involved, subsequent investigations fall under the jurisdiction of West Kootenay Traffic Services.
Sgt. Chad Badry of West Kootenay Traffic Services provided the Trail Times with an update on the fatal crashes.
All three accidents remain under analysis by both the RCMP and BC Coroners Service, and it will likely be many months before those cases come to a conclusion.
RCMP await the reconstructionist’s report for each incident, though Badry confirmed police do not anticipate any forthcoming charges.
“It will be ongoing for some time until the reconstructionist report is completed,” he explained. “We do not anticipate any charges related to this investigation.”
Following any road fatality, the ministry looks at a number of factors that include road geometry and design, weather conditions as well as air and pavement temperatures, road surface condition, signage, site visibility, traffic speed and traffic volume.
“We also work with the other agencies to determine other contributing factors such as human conditions and actions, or vehicle conditions,” stated the MoTI.
Besides the RCMP and BC Coroners Service, other agencies involved in investigations can include Commercial Vehicle Safety Enforcement and the highway maintenance contractor – which locally, is Emcon Services.
“Highway contractor participation in attending incidents is contractually obligated,” the MoTI said. “Performance is continuously measured and discussed to ensure the highway maintenance agreement is being delivered effectively.”
To confirm the contractor is meeting ministry standards, the contractor is regularly audited and its performance monitored in addition to daily communication.
“They are required to keep records to demonstrate compliance with the maintenance specifications and to have a quality control and a quality assurance program whereby records are maintained to demonstrate compliance.”
Called the Contractor Assessment Program, ministry staff monitor and audit performance to ensure contractors are meeting government standards.
“Should a contractor be found to not be complying with the terms of the contract,” MoTi stated. “The ministry has tools within the contract to improve performance.”
With Emcon’s current highway maintenance contract expiring Sept. 30, this week the province issued an RFQ (pre-qualification opportunity) for the Kootenay Boundary Service Area, which includes Trail, Castlegar and Highway 22.
Regarding highway maintenance contracts, only one of 28 contracts in the province has been awarded and that one is for the Cranbrook area (Service Area 11), MoTI stated.
The ministry undertook a competitive selection process by issuing a Request for Proposals (RFP) and posting it on BC Bid. This contract was won by Mainroad East Kootenay and went into effect Sept. 23, 2016. With respect to the remaining 27, the first three will start with two service areas on Vancouver Island as well as the service area surrounding the Burns Lake communities. These will be awarded this February and March. Twenty-six service areas will be posted and awarded throughout 2018 and early 2019, while one contract won’t expire until 2020.