Highway One Problems & Solutions

Summer is time for road-trips and camping, Albertan’s spilling into BC to enjoy the Province’s natural beauty, families travelling to visit relatives, beach vacations – and unfortunately for many of these trips, the Trans-Canada Highway is a necessary part of the route. On twitter, I have several searches that I check before I head out on the Trans Canada Highway from Revelstoke @DriveBC and  #Revelstoke #BCHWY1. Incidents such as this one from earlier this month are the reason why:

Four people were seriously injured and three trapped in their vehicles in a four-vehicle pileup on the Trans-Canada Highway by the Enchanted Forest and Sky Trek on Tuesday, August 5.

RCMP Staff Sgt. Kurt Grabinsky said the accident, which occurred at about 3 pm, closed the highway until just before 8 pm.

He said a West-bound truck pulling a trailer was moving too fast and too close to another vehicle that was turning left into the popular tourist attraction when it hit. Two other vehicles then hit it.

Revelstoke Current – Truck driver charged in Tuesday’s TCH pileup that left four injured

In just 26 days (from July 10 to August 5), the stretch of the Trans Canada Highway either side of Revelstoke between Sicamous and Golden has been closed eight times ((data collected from a very informal search of DriveBC twitter activity – see twitter links at the end of this article)). On average, every 5 days or so (since July 1, so far this summer), an accident or incident has occurred that has closed the highway. Typically, these closures are at least an hour, and if a police investigation is required, (if there is a fatality or serious injury or a multi-vehicle incident), the time to opening often extends to over four hours, often up to six.


Aside from incidents that occur within two kilometers of Revelstoke itself, there is effectively no reasonable detour available to the travelling public on BC HWY1 around Revelstoke.

On the West side of Revelstoke the detour would be greater than 6 hours additional travel time (( for example, if you we stopped in Malakwa, (which is often the case), Google Maps offers a 6.5 hour alternative route through scenic HWY 6 and HWY 23S, compared to the usual 45 minutes on HWY1.)). On the east side it could be greater than 8 hours additional travel time (( if you had made it from Calgary to Golden, and needed to get through to Revelstoke, or beyond to Kamloops say, the alternative is about 8 hours longer, through Creston, according to Google Maps.)).

Traffic Statistics

The Ministry traffic statistics are aggregated into Annual Average (AADT), and Summer Average Daily Traffic (SADT). The most relevant “permanent core” traffic data station is located at Twin Slides, approximately 47km East of Revelstoke. These averages are shown in the chart below, and available here.

Traffic Stats TCH
Trans Canada Highway Traffic Statistics

This data shows that since 2004, average daily summer traffic is up 14% (to 2013), but annual average total traffic is down 0.2% (to 2012). It is possible that a four hour highway closure on an average summer day could seriously impact the travel time of over 5,000 vehicles, and during peak summer days, this number could easily be as high as 8,000 vehicles, likely well over 10,000 people.

The Provincial Vision for the Corridor…

Note that the BC government is not responsible for the whole length of BCHWY1 from Kamloops to the Alberta Border, about 100km (( possibly some of the most difficult terrain, located within Revelstoke and Glacier National Parks)) is a Federal responsibility. However, the Province has made some bold statements about four-laning the route, and has committee to several important projects along the route…

From the four-laning discussion guide – MOTI

…since 2001 about $700 million in federal and provincial funds have gone towards the same section of the highway [Kamloops to the Alberta Border]. That’s added about 45 kilometres in new four-lane sections, in addition to new bridges.

Revelstoke Times Review – Update: $509 million promise for Trans-Canada four-laning from Kamloops to Alberta

Highway 1 Improvement Projects identified in 2013  MOTI document.
Highway 1 Improvement Projects identified in 2013 MOTI document.

The Highway 1 Malakwa Bridge and Four-Laning Project is part of the B.C. government’s commitment to invest $650 million over 10 years – improving Highway 1 between Kamloops and the Alberta border. Tybo Contracting Ltd. of Langley B.C. is the successful bidder with a tender of $16.4-million for the construction of the new bridge and four-laning project. Construction is scheduled to begin in August and is anticipated to be complete in the summer of 2016. The project also includes the widening of 2.7 kilometres of Highway 1 from two to four lanes and the addition of centre median barriers.

Highway 1 improvement project to replace Malakwa Bridge

But how do you set priorities?

One of the challenges that I see with the roll-out of the four-laning program is the distribution of the funds compared with the problem. There are many ways to determine the best use of $650 million over 10 years on this section of BCHWY1, and really, project priorities could be allocated in any order, including for example:

  • number of fatalities
  • number of injuries
  • frequency of vehicle incidents
  • easiest or least costly per kilometer sections
  • hardest or most costly per kilometer sections
  • cost of vehicle incidents (insurance)
  • cost of vehicle incidents (cost of delays on transport)
  • protected left turn movements
  • number of closures due to avalanche
  • first responder safety (i.e. avalanche paths)
  • areas of highway with low functional speed due to road geometry
  • climbing lanes
  • maintenance costs
  • condition and age of bridges

Summer and winter pose different problems and priorities for the highway. For winter, I believe one of the greatest risks is avalanche, that is why avalanche paths are marked as no-stopping zones. As Val Visotzky, an Avalanche Technician based in Revelstoke for the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure states, “the longer you are exposed to any hazard, the more you are at risk”. My vote would place a high priority on addressing areas where the avalanche risk compounds the risk for first responders at an accident scene, this is a pretty simple GIS mapping exercise: identify all winter accidents requiring more than 30 minutes of first responder time and query these against all known avalanche paths. Both of these fields could be weighted, length of delay for the accident, vs frequency of avalanche activity at a slide path. For summer, the traffic patterns change, (the average volume basically doubles) there are many more RV’s, campers, boat trailers, and families on holidays crossing the province, speeds typically go up, as does the risk of driver fatigue with longer daylight hours and the distances covered on holidays.

The incident mentioned at the top of this post was at an unprotected left turn into a popular (summer) tourist attraction. The posted speed limit is 90km/hr, and the province recently announced that the speed limit is being increased to 100km/hr through this section. Installing  protected turning lanes at this location should be considered as a high priority for summer driving. This incident, at this location seems to have a high risk of occurring again, given the parameters at play.

BC HWY1 at the Enchanted Forest - https://goo.gl/maps/CiTTO
BC HWY1 at the Enchanted Forest – https://goo.gl/maps/CiTTO

An Alternative? – Vision Zero and Smart Highways

Closures on the highway have become part of Revelstoke’s and other interior communities existence. The gridlock in towns can be an inconvenience for locals, and potentially a negative experience for visitors, (willing or unwilling), to these beautiful tourist destinations. But does it have to be this way? As the four-laning program is rolled-out, I hope that the known collision locations are checked off, and driver safety is held up as the highest priority.

An alternative approach that has some merit comes from Sweden. The Swedish Vision Zero initiative is a road traffic safety project that started in 1997, with the aim of achieving a highway system with no fatalities or serious injuries in road traffic.

A core principle of the vision is that ‘Life and health can never be exchanged for other benefits within the society’ rather than the more conventional approach where a monetary value is placed on life and health which is then used with a Benefit-cost ratio evaluation before investing money in the road network to decrease risk.

Wikipedia – Vision Zero

Part of the Vision Zero program is a focus on road technologies that can inform decision making for road management and driver behaviour, which is an obvious (but expensive) solution to the post accident highway re-opening traffic issues as well as weather related speed considerations. The Ministry of Transportation is adopting smart roadways as part of the “Actions to Improve Rural Highway Safety” program, with road and weather sensors and variable speed limit and warning signs along this BCHWY1 corridor between Sicamous and Revelstoke.

Proposed variable speed limit system - Perry Creek Bridge to Highway 23 junction
Proposed variable speed limit system – Perry Creek Bridge to Highway 23 junction

 Traffic and pavement sensors will monitor real-time traffic speeds and road conditions to provide information back to operations staff. This information will then be used to proactively update electronic speed limit signs located along the corridor. A senior district official would have final decision making ability in modifying speed limits, but will be advised in that decision by the information provided by the road weather information stations (air temperature and precipitation information), traffic sensors (vehicle speed information), and pavement sensors (roadway friction, visibility, and condition of the road surface).

Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure – Actions to improve safety on B.C.’s rural highways

From my perspective, the roll-out of this project can’t come soon enough, and if used judiciously could help reduce vehicle incidents and fatalities on the corridor, and better manage road openings following events. In the meantime, I hope and pray that drivers will slow down, keep their distance from vehicles in front, stay focused, and take regular breaks on their trips. The risks just are not worth the rush, particularly with the summer traffic volumes on the roads.

Some Context for this post, and a bit of a disclaimer

Note: I work closely with staff from the Ministry, the highway maintenance contractor, ICBC and the RCMP in my role as Director of Engineering and Development for the City of Revelstoke and have a great deal of respect for the work they do. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of my employer. I am passionate about finding the right solutions to the engineering problems we face as a community, and while this is outside of my direct influence, I believe that having a discussion of the issues and options along the corridor has value for the safety of all users.

Twitter Timeline – BCHWY1 Revelstoke Summer 2014

This is a summary of the incidents along the corridor this summer to August 5th.
At the Enchanted forest:

Not, an accident, but an extended highway closure:

At the Mount Revelstoke Parkway overpass, fortunately, vehicles were able to detour through Revelstoke:

Just west of Revelstoke:

In Glacier National Park:

Another in Glacier National Park:

Three Valley Gap is a notorious location both summer and winter for vehicle incidents:

Again, a detour was available through Revelstoke, but there is really only a couple of kilometers that this detour is an option:

Published by Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of UrbanWorkbench.com and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada.